The Sparrow

by Joy VanderMey

When Elsie was a little girl, she sat in her room, surrounded by all kinds of toys, but no one to play with. The stuffed animals whose smiles once invited her to magical lands of imagination were now lifeless and dull; she could not remember why they had seemed so exciting. She used to write stories about their adventures: “Spy-Puppy solves the mystery of the empty shelf on the bookcase.” Elsie no longer kissed each one of the stuffed creatures every night before bedtime. Instead, she woke up every morning, dragged herself out of bed, and groaned at the thought of another long day.

It was a bright summer morning when Elsie decided to solve the mystery that was her life. First, she wanted to read all of the books in the world in order to gain knowledge. Her Mother and the other teachers at school seemed to have everything figured out, and they were smart. She figured that if she was smart too, then her life would have purpose. She started by reading fiction.

As the hours went by, Elsie’s Mother peeked into her little girl’s room with a concerned look. She saw her blond-haired girl curled up on her bunk bed under a blanket with a flashlight. Mother encouraged Elsie to invite one of her friends from school over to play, but Elsie expressed to her Mom that she was doing something very important, and must not be interrupted. Elsie was fully convinced that after she became smart, her friends would be the ones begging her to come over and play. Mother understood the seriousness of the matter and left Elsie to her quest, but that did not stop her from silently praying for her daughter. She also brought up snacks from time to time, for which Elsie was greatly thankful.

After more hours of careful search, Elsie found that the characters in the books she read were always too perfect. She clicked off her flashlight and gave a disappointed sigh. Her big curious eyes were getting tired from the strain of all that reading. With her arms folded under her chin that rested on her pillow, she wondered what real little girl would ever find out that she was a long-lost queen and then have to fight off otherworldly creatures in order to claim her throne. Though the books provided a temporary escape from reality, Elsie did not feel any smarter, so she rubbed her weary eyes, and moved on to explore nonfiction literature.

She read books about people who excelled in athletics, science, and even mathematics. She buried her little mind under piles of books about plenty of people with great knowledge and wisdom, yet they always proved to be depressing. What is the point of their success, if they are only going to die and leave it all behind? In Elsie’s young perspective, one million paths all led to the same end; pointless futility, sorrow, and eventually, death. She felt like she was running in circles, and worse, that everyone else before her was too. Successful or not, she concluded she will most likely be forgotten.

Finally, as the sun was setting, she tried reading the Bible, because her Mother did it, so she figured it must be important. She read through Genesis and Deuteronomy and didn’t understand a single word. In frustration, she closed the Bible and tossed it next to her. Instead of utterly giving up, she thought of the Bible as a secret code that she would have to work at to crack. This added a level of importance to her life, and it made her into a sort of spy. From this point forward, she promised God that she would read her Bible every day.

The next day, Elsie questioned what the value of lifeless, inky words on a page could ever be. She was not one of those people who could read about the most beautiful places in the world and never go there, or who could know incredible people from books and be content not to meet them. She was done reading about living. Because of this, Elsie decided to become a musician. She dutifully sat down at her Mother’s piano. Her fingers flashed like lightning over the delicate keyboard; music sprang into the air like thunder, giving the room a vibrant, magical feeling. There was no stopping her; those eager hands refused to pause their scramble and search for sound. Nothing could be done to halt that intense energy, for she was gone; her heart and mind were one with the wind that her flying fingers produced while reaching their designated targets.

Elsie’s Mother stood in awe at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and marveling at how her daughter could play Marry Had a Little Lamb in so many variations. She was grateful that those piano lessons were finally being put to good use.

Even so, after a few hours the magical energy dissipated into the air as quickly as it came. Elsie realized she would never play for an audience; there would be no applause for her to relish, and nobody would cheer in awe of her talent. Her music would never live on for centuries like Mozart’s or Bach’s or Beethoven’s; it would die with her. Her thoughts acted as buckets of water being poured onto her flaming fire of passion. Finding nothing but disappointment in music, Elsie shut her mind off to it, and went to her room for her daily Bible reading. Today, she learned who Jesus was from the book of John. She went to bed not a little disheartened, and determined that tomorrow she would set her heart on something new.

Elsie woke up the next day with the sole purpose of tending her father’s old garden. The goal was to provide food for her Mother, for this would definitely provide some source of lasting pleasure. She was certain that her Mom would be proud of her, and that God would definitely be too, since she was working hard from morning to night. With her father gone, the garden had been empty for years, so she pulled out hundreds of prickly weeds, and planted green bean and tomato seeds.

Elsie became friends with the bugs that crawled through the soil, and embraced the showers of sweat from the hot sun that she had to wipe from her forehead in order to see. She met all kinds of little creatures in the garden, like mud frogs that blended in with the dirt so well she had to try not to step on them, and caterpillars that were on their way to becoming butterflies. She thought of what a happy face her Mother would have when she saw the beautiful red tomatoes, the bright green beans!

The next day, Elsie found that instead of feeding her Mother, she was feeding the birds, rabbits, and mice. Where she had planted seeds, there were only holes where the greedy little creatures had dug. As she stood dejected in front of the garden, her Mother tried to comfort her. After all, the critters had to eat too. Elsie knew very little about gardening; she had no thought to building a fence. She was crushed, and asked God why He let this happen. She ran up to her room in tears and threw open the covers of her Bible, reading the first thing she opened up to. It happened to be in Proverbs about a woman who provided for her family. Frustrated, she turned to the book of Ecclesiastes, but neither of these made her feel any better about herself. Disappointed with gardening and her waste of precious time, Elsie decided to try baking.

Before it was yet noon, a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies were gently carried out of the oven, followed by another, and another, and about twenty-seven more. Gooey chocolate drops gleamed up at Elsie. The cookies were done when the bottoms were a light brown, and the tops were crisp and golden. Perfection! Elsie’s Mom was happy that her daughter was enjoying herself, but wondered what they were going to do with all of those cookies. Elsie, who was covered in splotches of flour from head to toe, had no thought for this until her Mom brought it to her attention. All of the sudden, she had a fantastic idea. Elsie quickly bagged up her cookies and brought them to the farmers market around the corner.

It was no matter that the garden failed; her cookies were a hit! She sold them all within a couple of hours. Elsie was so grateful that she was finally doing something right. She went home with a pep in her step, bragging to her Mother the whole way back. When she opened the door, she looked at the disaster of a kitchen, and her countenance immediately fell. There was sugar all over the floor, just waiting for ants to find it and feast on it. There was cookie dough covering the counter, and messy dishes piled up in the sink. Elsie’s glee turned quickly into despair, and she realized that baking was too much for her. She did not want to clean up this mess every time she made cookies. It was well after dark by the time she was done cleaning the kitchen, so Elsie dragged herself up to her room to go to sleep. She was tired of baking, and as a result, she decided to pour all of her time into her studies tomorrow.

Elsie worked from morning till night on her summer assignments, and wrote at least two times over the minimum requirement on every task. Elsie was miserable, yet she completed her work quietly, and presented it to her Mother with a smile. When all of her assignments were done, her Mom decided to celebrate Elsie’s achievement, and bought her some balloons to release into the air to symbolize her freedom for the rest of the summer. She let them go, and they flew, but the day was windy, and the balloons soon got stuck in the top of a nearby tree. It was a nice idea.

Despite her academic success, Elsie could not see a future in any of her studies. What was she going to do when she finished school, except more of the same work that she loathed and dreaded? Who was going to admire her for her work, besides her Mother? Elsie was completely worn out, and so she finally came to the conclusion that life was pointless and empty. Every path she ran down was a dead end, and there was no reason not to think every other path would be the same. She hated life. When everything she tried to find purpose in had failed; reading, music, gardening, baking, and academics; Elsie asked God why she was even here. It was getting dark, so she put on her coat, went outside, and sat under a tall tree. She sat numb, listened to the birds as they sung, and just watched the world happen.

* * *

Elsie’s sorrowful eyes spotted a sparrow that was perched gently atop a pine tree which stood at the forest’s edge. It was alone, and it quietly surveyed its surroundings. There were no predators in sight, and the sparrow had its eyes set on only one thing. With some hesitation, it darted to the bird-feeder, and hopped under the shelter of the metal table that was set out for birds like him to dine. His experienced beak gathered up as many seeds as it could, before a bigger bird hopped into his field of vision, and then the sparrow darted back to his tree. To the human eye, this scene seems peaceful, tranquil even. Yet, every time a bird visits the feeder, the site is transformed into a warzone, and a battle for dominance ensues.

How small the little bird seemed, yet its problems were real. Like the sparrow, Elsie had set her mind and heart on one goal; she wanted to discover her purpose. She had longed for it so much, that she couldn’t see anything else. She ran one hundred miles an hour in all of the wrong directions, and was right back where she started. Thoughts like these crowded Elsie’s mind as she observed the lonely sparrow. She too was alone, and wanted to fly away with the bird.

What is the point? Refusing to face the answer to that question makes one behave like a procrastinator when they have an assignment due. They do everything under the sun, except the assignment. Life is temporarily transformed into a hopeless, pointless, draining ordeal. The unfinished work infiltrates every action they take, and seeps into both their subconscious and conscious thoughts. When it is finally faced, life is back to normal… until the next big assignment is due. For Elsie, the assignment is always due. All she does is try to avoid it, yet it is always there, taunting her. It is eternal dread, and she never knows how to move forward.

Elsie looked at the sparrow as it flew away from his spot on the tree. It was probably bringing food back to its family. She imagined the little baby birds, helplessly crying out from their nest for food. Those birds are totally dependent on their mother to provide sustenance for them. Greedy little things, Elsie thought. Then it hit her, right in the face where it hurts. Not the sparrow, but the cold hard truth. Isn’t she just like them? Here she was, sitting on the ground all alone, feeling sorry for herself. Elsie could not be successful for long enough to take care of herself, let alone her Mother. She could not even do the simplest of tasks, one that a tiny sparrow could do.

She only just started reading the Bible this week, but it was enough for her to know that she was trying to find purpose for the wrong reason. She just wanted people to like her, and as much as she tried to deny it, that reality was disguised in the dressed-up deceit of her own heart. She buried her face in her knees and wept. This was a fact that her Mother could never face for her; the very thing that she had been putting off like a master procrastinator.

Elsie lifted up her head and looked again at the scene before her. It was starting to rain, and she was surrounded by lush evergreen trees whose branches were weighed down by countless pinecones. Even the trees had burdens to carry, and Elsie felt like one of those branches that could barely support itself under the pressure. The raindrops fell on her eyes and mixed with her tears, causing her vision to blur. She knew that God was watching over everything; just yesterday she read that not even a sparrow falls without Him knowing it. But this didn’t stop her from wondering why God created the world, the trees, the rain, the birds, or even her, if everything was just going to suffer. Why would a loving God want everyone to be miserable?

Suddenly, she thought of what her Father would say if he was here. When Elsie saw that the branches of the evergreen tree were weighed down by an almost unbearable burden, he would have marveled at how God formed the tree with limbs just strong enough to carry it. When she saw that the baby birds were helplessly dependent, he would have pointed out how the Creator made the mother bird with instincts to care for them. He would have said that though Elsie felt weighed down like the tree, God would make sure that none of those burdens were ever too much for her to carry. She would be tested, but would never snap under the load.

In all of her Bible reading, Elsie related to the book of Ecclesiastes the most. Solomon had devoted his life to knowledge, work, and other things, but he could never find any lasting satisfaction. It was so bad for him that he, like Elsie, actually declared that he hated life.

What surprised Elsie was that Solomon saw all the futility that he was drowning in as a “a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.” All of the pointlessness, the mad dash for meaning in this world, was actually a gift that God gave to draw people to Himself in dependence, like those little baby birds Elsie had just watched. How else would anyone believe in Jesus if they didn’t think they needed Him? How else would they discover the peace that God gives if they didn’t first know the pain that comes from endless strife?

If this book wasn’t pessimistic, she didn’t know what was; yet it still had a light at the end of the tunnel. Elsie recognized that her life on earth would never be perfect like the lives of people in the books that she read, but still, everyone had to make the choice of what they will live for; why not choose now? What did she have to lose?

Elsie was ready for something new, but this time, instead of jumping to another hobby, Elsie dedicated her life completely to God. This was a passion that no water could put out; it was a fire that would never stop burning. It did not apply to only an area of life; it was the essence of life itself, for her life was never really hers to begin with. With a satisfied and encouraged heart, Elsie rose up from the ground, and walked home.

Elsie’s Mother was relieved when her daughter walked through the door. She imagined how differently this night could have gone if Elsie did not have a loving Heavenly Father watching over her, guiding and guarding her thoughts. After an understanding embrace, both Elsie and her Mother had a sweet sleep.

Elsie had a new lens for life. After spending so much time on herself, she learned that her life belongs to God, and that the best investment of time is always in other people. There were days when she wondered why it took her so long come to the truth, but trusted that it was all in the right timing. She would no longer have to waste any more time; Elsie woke up each morning with a smile, popped out of bed, and rejoiced over the thought of another new day. She even went to bed happy, looking forward to tomorrow.

With her heart set on her new purpose, Elsie could read for fun, bake for others, and know it was time well spent. Every book she read reminded her of the amazing activities that God designed humans to be able to do. Mathematicians who could use their skills to solve complicated problems, and athletes who could train themselves to endure extreme physical challenges were proof that people were formed in God’s image. Fiction books gave Elsie a glimpse of the incredible imagination that God gave to authors, and she marveled at the plots that they crafted. Elsie thanked God for her ability to bake, and every time she did, she was reminded at how abundantly He provided for her and her Mother. She often surprised friends with a batch of her famous cookies. She enjoyed expressing Jesus’s love to others; after all, He loved them all so much that He gave up His life for them.

Elsie played music and shared it with others. She stopped worrying about her crops being eaten, built a fence, and worked hard. The seeds were never dug up from the ground; her Mother was finally able to enjoy a plentiful harvest, and they even had extra to share. When Elsie studied, she did so with dedication, as if she were doing it for the Lord Himself. She did everything with all of her strength, trusting that He would supply all the energy that she needed.

Elsie no longer spent every day in isolation; she took walks with her friends through the forest and along the river. When she saw the beautiful maple trees as they dropped their helicopter seeds in the late spring, and the water as the sun’s rays danced on the glassy surface, Elsie thought about how nature is a reflection of God’s glory. She told her friends that just like the moon can only reflect the light of the sun, all of God’s amazing creation reflects its even greater Creator. She never felt alone anymore, through all of the valleys and mountains of life. When she saw the tiny sparrows, she was reminded about how God watches over and provides for each of them, and about how much more He cares for people like her. Elsie finally solved the mystery of life; she found that life was a gift, and it pointed to the Giver.


Joy VanderMey is a college student studying English. Her passion is to share the Gospel, so that many would come to know Christ.

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