I am a spiritual Northern Flicker

Northern flicker, Roslyn, New York (D. Benjamin Miller)

When I was about 12 years old, a very odd sound woke me up.

It was about 8 in the morning on a Saturday. Needless to say, I was unimpressed.

Though I was unimpressed by the fact that something woke me up much earlier than I needed to be awake, I was also a little frightened. It sounded like a machine gun. It was a very urgent rat-tat-tat that went on for a few seconds. It stopped, and the morning was silent.

I shrugged it off and tried to roll over and fall back asleep. But then it started again: "Rat-tat-tat! Rat-tat-tat! Rat-tat-tat-tat-TAT!"

I was no longer frightened. I was annoyed.

Throwing off the covers, I ran to my window to look outside, trying to spot the culprit. But there was no one there. I raised the blinds on the other window, only to spot nothing.

In the weeks to come, I would hear this sound on and off, usually in the early morning, especially if it was a sunny day. I was so frustrated at this sound and tried to figure out what it was. When I mentioned it to my parents, they had no clue. No one in our neighbourhood was doing construction, and I was pretty sure no one had a gun around.

But one morning, I caught it.

I heard the sound again, and it sounded very close to my room. It was almost as if it was right outside my window. So I slowly snuck to the window and raised the blinds.

And there it was: a Northern Flicker, sitting on the small chimney outside my window.

I peered through the blinds and waited for it to make a move. Suddenly, it threw back its head and started pecking at the metal chimney, making the telltale rat-tat-tat sound that had plagued me for months.

Once I shared with my parents what was making the sound and even showed them the Flicker from my room, I remembered thinking to myself how stupid this bird was. Did it not realize that the chimney it pecked at was not a tree? That there couldn't possibly be any kind of food in it?

Over the years, Flickers would come and go from my chimney. I couldn't say for certain if it was the same one every time, or if one told their friends that there was something special about it. But as much as it was an annoyance to wake up to the percussive pecking of the Northern Flicker, I began to see myself in this odd bird.


In my spiritual life, I am that Northern Flicker. Even years after my conversion and spending time with Jesus, I continue to go back to places that don't nourish me. I'm talking about that proverbial chimney that has no food.

We all have those chimneys that we keep pecking away at. Perhaps we keep pecking because we think that today is the day that we'll score some grub. But while we try to do so, we can cause damage to ourselves and those around us.

For me, I know that I keep coming back to comparing myself to other people, especially women. I get hung up that I haven't achieved the things I wanted to, that my faith life isn't as strong as another woman's, or that I'm not succeeding. I keep pecking on the chimney, thinking that this time will be my breakthrough where I finally catch up to others.

But even if I were to 'catch up' and even break the chimney, I will still be unsatisfied.


On a recent walk, I actually saw two Flickers pecking on the ground nearby my house. A larger Flicker, probably an adult, was leading a smaller Flicker along as they hopped on the grass. I nodded to myself and felt kind of happy for them that they were back on track. And it occurred to me that I needed to get myself on track as well.

When it comes to feeling unsatisfied with where we are in life, or even the temptations and sins we continue to fall back into, I challenge you to think about what the root of that behaviour is. Many times, it is a lack of trust that God is good and that God can do infinitely more with us than we could ever imagine or do on our own.

Following the Lord is challenging, but when I saw the older Flicker leading the younger one, I realized that despite the challenge, the Lord will never lead us astray. In fact, it is when we try to do things on our own that we end up at a metal chimney outside a poor 8-year-old girl's room.

Trust is not easy, but it is worth it. Putting in the hard work in following Him is worth it. He sees the efforts we make, and He leads us to where the real food is.

Now, when I think of the Northern Flicker, I don't fault it for pecking away at the chimney outside my window. I do, however, will for it to go somewhere else where there is an actual food source. But I also remember that I, too, am a Northern Flicker. I need guidance and I need to trust in God's plan for me. In doing so, He leads me to greener pastures and fulfills the dreams and realizations He has for me.