Lessons From Purple Martins
By Glenn Crumpler
This week was the first time this year I have had the opportunity to pick up my 5-gallon bucket and go sit down under my martin gourds and just watch, listen to and visit with this year’s group of purple martins. I have no idea how many of the birds were returns from previous years or how many were first timers, but their arrival, activity and sounds are something we look forward to every year. Somehow, their presence just brings a sense of peace to my soul and leads me to marvel at God’s majesty, attention to detail and His desire for us to enjoy His creation as we see Him in it.
Yesterday, as Lisa and I took a moment to sit down in our lawn chairs by the horses and nearer to the martin gourds, we noticed a lot of smaller martins were perched on the power lines just in front of us. I have never noticed that before, but it was obvious these birds were young and were part of this year’s hatchlings.
Outside temperatures being over 100 degrees for several days partially explained why these now fully fledged young martins were outside their gourds so close to nightfall. As we continued to watch them, I could tell there was more to this story than just the heat. Every time the young martins tried to fly back inside their gourds, the adult birds would make a fuss and drive them away, sometimes riding them almost down to the ground.
“It is more than the heat,” I told Lisa. “I’m guessing the parents are preparing the young birds to fend for themselves and to build up their endurance and flying skills so they will be strong enough to make the long journey home back to South America.”
Because purple martins are insectivores rather than seed eaters, they are not able to survive the winter months in most of North America. Instead, they migrate to South America in the winter months and then migrate north when the weather warms. As a crow flies, it is roughly 4,800 miles from my house to Brazil where most of the martins spend their winters; yet, they make that journey twice each and every year. That is absolutely amazing to me!
Today, as I was deciding what to write about, I did some research on the Purple Martin Conservation Association website and this is what I found:
“At about three days before the young fledge, they are about the same size or even larger than the adults. At this time, they’re probably too heavy to make that first successful flight. The parent birds seem to know this and will stop feeding them. This causes the young to lose some weight, thus enabling those first crucial flights to be successful. The parent birds can be seen trying to encourage the young to come out of the compartments and fly. With enough observation, a landlord might even catch sight of a parent actually pulling a young one out of the entrance hole, trying to get them to take that first leap.
“Upon exiting the nest, the young will take off with much excitement. The parents will often chase and harass the young, screaming at them, seemingly scaring them into flight. This first flight is a critical one. They must learn to fly, and they have to learn to fly well, quickly. Their life depends on it. There are many predators that are waiting on the young and they have to be able to fly very well in order to evade these predators.
“Once fledged, the young will practice flying, landing and taking off again, returning to the site occasionally for a rest and they may even spend a night or two in the compartment, but they will not stay long. For about a week, the young will practice flying while still begging for food from the parent birds. Often, they can be seen on nearby power lines or open trees, begging for food from the parents and waiting for the parents to feed them. But, as nature will have it, all good things must come to an end and the young have to start feeding themselves. They will now have to put their practice flights to use. They will start hanging out with the adult birds, learning how to feed themselves and beginning to enjoy the start of their lives, investigating everything that is around them.”
Immediately after reflecting on this, my mind went to my children and grandchildren and a sacred promise God gives us in Scripture. Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I really believe this is indeed a promise from God, but I also confess that I sometimes struggle with how that looks from my perspective and many life experiences as a Daddy, Granddaddy and a minister.
Again, in Deuteronomy 6:1-9, God stresses the importance of keeping and teaching His commandments to our children. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And those words which I commanded you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children. ...” If our own personal, intimate, relationship with God is not what it should be, we cannot teach it to our children!
I know there are no perfect parents or grandparents, but I am like most parents in that I often wish I had a lot of “do-over” opportunities with both my children and grandchildren. Neither you nor I can go back in time, however; what we can do is be intentional about our own relationship with the Lord Jesus and ensure that from this point forward we do all we can to raise our children and our grandchildren in “the way that they should go,” help other young parents do the same and try to be there for those whose parents did not teach them God’s ways.
Proverbs 22:6 is a very specific command from God. Saying we do not have time, that we are too tired, etc., is inexcusable. We can never find an adequate excuse for going against God’s Word! We may not be able to explain all of God’s Word, but we can teach our children to “obey God.”
Combining some of Dr. Charles Stanley’s teaching with my own, raising our children or grandchildren up in the ways of God requires an investment of our time – quality time not just quantity of time. We can spend 20 hours a week with them on the ball field, in the horse or cattle arena, on the golf course, in a hunting blind or any other activity, but if we are not teaching them how to love and walk with the Lord Jesus, we are failing as parents. Teaching them to walk in the way they should go in light of Scripture is an investment in their eternity – failing to do so is the same, but with catastrophic results!
As a parent or grandparent, we are the most important person in the life of our children. Every child desires relationship with their parents and to be loved by them. If that love is not unconditional – they will never know their place. They must know they are loved beyond their mistakes. If they are loved conditionally, they will never know how to love or what it means to be loved. Never tell a child you are ashamed of them but teach them to be the best they can be. Love that is not unconditional love leads to frustration and anger they do not know how to handle.
We need to recognize that our society is an enemy to our children. Most schools, TV, social media, etc., will lead them away from God. I have heard that three in four university students will turn away from their faith before graduation. If nothing else, they will doubt the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. If we do not teach them in the way they should go, someone else will teach them to go the wrong way.
We must learn to listen to our children so they will learn to listen to us. STOP whatever you are doing, look at them, listen to them and give them your undivided attention. We sometimes need to admit we are wrong as a parent. Our children see it, and it is important we confess it and ask for forgiveness. This teaches them to do the same with others and with God. This builds relationships! If they cannot talk with you, they will talk with someone else who does not love them like you do.
We must lead them to fully understand their ultimate accountability is to God, not to us as their parents. God will be there when we are not! If they realize they are accountable to God, they will think twice when they are on their own.
We must teach our children to spend daily time studying God’s Word and in prayer. If they see this is not important to us, it will not be important to them.
We must drill into them the truth that God has a plan for their lives. If they know this, they will naturally begin to ask God what that plan is. This will drive them to the Bible to search for that plan. Nobody can live a Godly life with a closed Bible!
Finally, we must teach them to obey God and leave all the consequences to Him! This teaches them the sovereignty of God, His interest in them and that they can trust Him. This will lead them to be able to stand against the enemy and stand alone if necessary, against the attacks and temptations they will face. They will learn to love God, to trust God and to stand with God.
If you have made mistakes as a parent or grandparent (and you have), confess it to God, confess it to your children and stop making those same mistakes. Instead, teach them in the way they should go, to walk with Jesus and not only will they fly, they will soar with wings as eagles.