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Disheveled Theologian: Birds can show us a simple path to being content

When I was 13 years old — give or take a year — my sister and brother-in-law took me ice skating for the first time. I lived in Washington state and it didn’t freeze very often on Orcas Island, so to have the ice on the ponds actually freeze hard enough to hold people … well, that was pretty special.

I should clarify something here: I didn’t have skates. Who owns skates where it only freezes hard enough to skate about once every five years? My sister might have had some because she was adventurous and her husband had worked at a ski resort in Idaho for a few years while they were dating, so I think maybe they each had invested in skates. But me, I was just slipping all over the ice in my snow boots.

I don’t remember a lot about the event other than one particular moment. The pond we were on was small. Orcas has lakes, but it has way more ponds and most of them are about the size of a baseball diamond. This one was maybe a little larger than that. Maybe two baseball diamonds.

As we ventured out on the ice I, having very little ice experience, found myself aiming for the center of the pond. I went father and farther, falling and sliding in that direction. Pretty soon my brother-in-law noticed.

“Don’t go over there,” Charley said. “Stay away from the ducks.”

Well, I hadn’t paid much attention to the ducks at that point, but suddenly they were all I wanted to see.

“Why?” I asked, a little defensively.

Now you may be thinking that any 13-year-old ought to know that where there are ducks swimming in circles on the water to keep it clear of ice, then there will be, logically, thinner ice near the edge of their circle. But remember, I wasn’t used to ice and years went by with seeing no more ice outdoors than that which formed on the edge of a mud puddle. So I had never given much thought to birds and frozen waters. But believe you me, the moment my sister began explaining to me why I ought to stay away from the open water, I turned and began slipping and sliding my way back to the edge of the pond.

So no, I didn’t fall though, in case you were wondering.

But that moment did stick in my mind as a lesson in following directions and listening to those who know more than you do.

I’ve thought a lot about those circling ducks recently as the geese on Lake Okabena are doing the exact same thing. There, right in the middle of the lake, those geese are keeping the ice clear so they can have open water. For a while they were fighting a losing battle, but now they have a clear patch, where some geese float around, eating and doing whatever it is that geese do, while others take a spell on the ice, sleeping or preening or whatever it is that geese do when not in the water. They don’t need ice skates, or even snow boots.

They just do what God made them to do: swim, keep the ice clear, rest up for the long flight south. No fuss. Just do what God made you to do and you will be content.

“Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” Psalm 148:7-13NIV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is