Feeding the Right Habits

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What’s wrong with this picture?

An adult Reed Warbler is feeding a humungous chick that is straddling the entirety of the tiny warbler nest.

That’s because the chick isn’t a Reed Warbler.  It’s a Common Cuckoo, a European species known for its “brood parasite strategy.”  To put it another way, cuckoos are squatters.  They force other birds to raise their young. 

A cuckoo hen will wait until a pair of birds have finished crafting their nest and laid their eggs.   Should they depart the scene for even a moment, the cuckoo will swoop in – laying a single egg and making a clean getaway in something like 10 seconds.  Ornithologists have noted that cuckoos utilize this fly-in-fly-out strategy with more than 100 different host species, and just one cuckoo hen can lay as many as 50 “surprise” eggs in a single season.

The Reed Warbler parents, who apparently didn’t attend Honors math classes, don’t seem to notice that there’s a new egg in the nursery. 

Then the eggs hatch.  Within 14 days, the cuckoo chick is three times larger than the warbler chicks.  And everyone in the family quickly discovers that the biggest baby gets the biggest breakfast. 

Gradually the cuckoo muscles its competition out of the nest.  In the hedgerows of Europe, it’s easy to find baby cuckoos.  Just look along the ground for the dead, emaciated chicks of other bird species.

There’s something about this reality that exasperates many birdwatchers, as well as anyone who thinks that justice ought to prevail in the world.  After all, the planet would seem a nicer place with more warblers and fewer cuckoos.

But the cuckoo’s behavior, upon examination, turns out to be disturbingly familiar to all of us.  

Dr. Jim Loehr, a nationally known sports psychologist, notes that whatever we choose to feed will grow.  Whatever we allow to be crowded out of our lives will starve.  “Invest energy in patience and it will grow, like a muscle.  Conversely, if you invest energy in impatience, then it will grow.  By giving something energy, you give it life.”

This is true when it comes to your job.  And your relationships with your kids.  And your ability to play the piano.  Stop investing energy, and such things will inevitably die.

Compassion, generosity, trust, and integrity all respond to the degree of energy we choose to provide.  If they get nothing but the leftovers, they will be pushed out of our lives and die of starvation.  As Loehr puts it:  “When we give something energy, we grow it.  When we give something extraordinary energy, it grows extraordinarily.”

This seems to be exactly what the apostle Paul has in mind in the book of Romans:  “[Don’t] give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives.  Don’t give it the time of day.  Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life.  Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time – remember, you’ve been raised from the dead! – into God’s way of doing things.” (Romans 6:11-13, The Message)

In other words, feed the new life to which you have been called.  Starve the habits that you know have been holding you back.

Otherwise you might just end up being a cuckoo.