We have quite the lively population of gray squirrels in our yard.
They grew even livelier when we put up a bird feeder. Instead of scampering over the yard and through the trees, they climbed the pole, latched onto the feeders—sometimes upside down—and had little squirrel keggers, consuming as much seed as they could hold at one sitting.
“This is ridiculous,” said my husband. Problem one: they were frightening the birds. Problem number two: even Jeff Bezos cannot afford what our squirrels would consume in birdseed in one year. So one day, when we were at a local bird store, we asked the shop owner for a solution.
“Squirrel baffle,” he said.
For the uninitiated, a baffle is a bell-shaped dome that slides about two-thirds of the way down the bottom of the feeder pole. Because of the shape, squirrels can’t climb over it to get to the feeder, and they can’t fling themselves up over it either. Because the material is slick, they can’t haul themselves up by sheer force of will. As long as there isn’t anything in the vicinity that they can use as a launchpad to dive-bomb the feeder, a baffle solves every squirrel problem.
Skeptical, we figured it was worth a try. And it worked.
The squirrels puzzled over the baffle for days. They climbed up inside it like little curious priests inside a church bell. They tried to climb it only to make an adorable fireman’s slide back down the pole. Consternated, they sometimes sat at the bottom of the feeder and simply stared at it, their tiny minds trying to work out the mechanics.
In the meantime, our birds got fed.
But we felt a little bad watching the little squirrels huddled in confusion around the base of the pole, especially as our resident brash blue jay routinely ate peanuts that they couldn’t reach right in front of them. So we started scattering good squirrel snacks at the base of another tree a short distance from the feeder, including the occasional corncob.
They ignored all of it.
Bewildered, we watched them look right at the goodies we left to them—easily accessible, in plain view—and then return to the base of the feeder that offered no food. One day I peeked out the glass door to find five of them gathered around it in a little circle, sitting back on their haunches and staring at the baffle like they were praying to a god.
“It’s right there,” I told them, pointing to the corncob sitting not five feet away. “It is right there.”
But it made me think of how narrow my own vision can be, how I can grow focused on the absence of one thing I want to the exclusion of everything else I’m given. I think especially about how believers have this tendency when it comes to their callings and their ministries, developing an idea of what we think God wants and then waiting for Him to give it to us.
It’s a dangerous practice.
Dangerous because we can miss the actual call, the actual ministry—more satisfying and richer by far—for whatever pale substitute we’ve created. Danger because our sense of calling can become an idol all by itself and can tempt into dangerous sin. Many are the prominent believers who have hidden their mistakes and sinful behavior because they feared “the ministry” or the calling would be sullied if they shared it. Dangerous because when we focus on what we think we want, we miss what we might actually, richly enjoy.
I suspect everyone has a phantom they chase. It’s the relationship that you want to be the grand romance, no matter how much it actually isn’t. Or the job that you think will solve all of your problems, if only you could get the interview. The opportunity you think God promised you. The gesture from a loved one that would make everything better. We all envision what might best meet our needs, and we chase that vision down. It never occurs to us that God might have different ideas, or what those might even look like, or how they might satisfy our needs.
I’m pleased to report that the squirrels finally figured it out.
They returned to the baffle over and over again for a while, but then one started exploring near the peanuts. His companions joined him, and before long we were having small squirrel parties under what we have christened Squirrel Tree. They enjoy it just as much as the feeder and, as recently as a few days ago, we watched one particular squirrel haul an entire corncob into the woods on his own.
It’s a good reminder that one of the remedies to obsessive focus and idolatry of one’s own desires is to keep an open mind about God’s plan and be looking around, always, for opportunities and surprising gifts. You never know when everything you’ve hoped for will come calling—and you don’t want to miss it because you were so focused on what you thought you needed instead.