I’ll be honest with you, I don’t cry over animals often. But, every now and then something comes along and creates an exception to this rule. Such is exactly what happened when I heard about Nigel the bird. Nigel isn’t just any old bird. He’s known as the world’s loneliest bird. According to a Washington Post article, Nigel recently died. If you told me that a bird has died, I wouldn’t be bothered. But, if you tell me that the world’s loneliest bird has died… now that gets me. It gets even sadder when you learn more about Nigel.
New Zealand wildlife officials were hoping to set up a colony of gannet birds on Mana Island off of the NZ coast by setting up concrete decoy birds and broadcasting the birds’ noises. However, only one bird ever showed up to the island. That bird was Nigel. Nigel, all alone, took a liking to one of the 80 decoy gannet birds and loved it unconditionally. Nigel built the decoy a nest for them to share, groomed its concrete feathers, and even brought it food. Nigel died next to that decoy, and he probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.
There are a lot of questions that came to my mind when I first heard this story. Why was Nigel the only bird to come to the island? Was he a social outcast in New Zealand? Was something wrong with him? But the more I thought about it, the more irrelevant these questions became. The only question that remained was, “Why aren’t I more like that?” Now, I know Nigel was probably just following his instincts, but there’s a real lesson here. A lesson about love. Profound, challenging, moving, God-like love.
The most striking aspect of Nigel’s story for me is that for three years, he was lovingly devoted to a “bird” that could never reciprocate any love/devotion. For three years, Nigel brought food to, built a nest for, and groomed a bird that would never and could never do the same for him. When he never received anything in return, he didn’t grow despondent and uninterested, but all the more devoted. The more I thought about this I thought, “What would it take for me to love in the same way?”
Then it dawned on me, this is just how Christ would have me to love. Jesus’ love ethic can be summed up in one word: sacrificial. Notice his words in Luke 6:32-36:
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Christian love doesn’t only show itself to those who can reciprocate it. It is extended to all, even those who will not or can not show it back. That’s why Jesus’ love is so world-changing. Everyone finds it generally easy to love those and be nice to those who do loving and nice things in return. But what about the people who will never be able to return the love? What about the people who are like the concrete bird decoys, always receiving and never giving? What about the people who are bitter, stubborn, unloving, and even evil? Well, according to Jesus they deserve love too. After all, God loved us when we were seemingly unloveable (Romans 5:8). What if we, being aware of this unyielding love of God, sought to show it to everyone around us?
Take a lesson from Nigel and love like Jesus.