It's a child's worst nightmare: getting left behind or forgotten by a parent. Maybe it has happened to you? Or worse, were YOU the guilty parent who forgot their child somewhere?
Well, I'm here to help you feel better about your little mistake and perhaps even indulge you with a smug sense of schadenfreude (a lovely German word referring to the feeling of joy or pleasure when you see someone else fail or suffer misfortune).
Look, normally I wouldn't advocate such a horrible way of thinking—after all, I'm a Christian! I'm meant to be Mrs. Nice Person, rejoicing when others rejoice and weeping when they weep. But in the case I bring before you, the offender is a cartoon duck, so allow your judgement to flow freely without guilt or hesitation.
The tale of five little ducks
The story starts with a mother duck who is blessed with five lovely little duckling children. These little ducks went out one day (over a hill and far away). Credit where credit is due; the mother duck is fostering independence in her young ones yet providing safety in numbers.
At the quacking of the mother duck, the ducklings return to her. But there's a problem: only FOUR little ducks came back!
The story continues swiftly and we are left with little time to wonder about this one lost little duck as the mother duck sends out these four ducklings again (over a hill and far away).
You might guess what happens next...that's right...only THREE little ducklings return to their mother!
By this stage of the story, my head is spinning. What is happening to these little ducklings? Why aren't they returning to their mother? And why doesn't their mother go and look for the lost little ducklings? Why does she continue to send out her young, when their numbers are slowly dwindling? Who is going to pull her up on this irresponsible parenting practice?
Eventually the story reaches a point where one little duck goes out... and no ducks return.
This is when the 'sad' mother duck (as she well should be!) goes out, over the hill and far away in search of her brood. I have to wonder whether this was prompted by the magnitude of her loss, or perhaps the last and final duck was her favourite, the only one she really cared for? This time when she quacks all five little ducks come back.
Well, it's a happy ending to the story—at least all the ducklings return. But I'm still left scratching my head over the gross negligence of this mother duck. I'm not sure it's a song I'll be singing to my soon-to-be-born son in case I give him a complex about being sent out and left to fend for himself!
A responsible shepherd
It got me thinking about another story involving lost animals. Only this one isn't a nursery rhyme. It's a story told by Jesus about a man who has 100 sheep and loses one of them.
Instead of being like the negligent mother duck waiting until all her ducklings are gone, this shepherd goes and searches for this one lost sheep until he finds it. The story is recorded in Matthew chapter 18 and Luke chapter 15.
Jesus tells the story to show us the kind of love God has for us. It's an active, extravagant kind of love that goes searching when we are lost and does not give up until we are found and brought safely to him.
It's no accident the Bible uses the imagery of Jesus the Good Shepherd and we, his sheep. Sheep are quite silly animals, and they need a good shepherd to protect them from harm—from within and without.
The man in the story who finds his sheep is so excited, he calls his neighbours and friends together to rejoice with him. "In the same way," says Jesus, "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don't need repentance."
Jesus' demonstration of love for us is the ultimate search and rescue story. As we remember again this Easter, he even gives up his own life, so that instead of us dying apart from God, our wrongdoing is paid for; we are able to be reconciled to God, and live forever with him—as we were meant to do all along. And Jesus even does this while we are still enemies living in rebellion against God—not even desiring to be found! (see Romans chapter 5, verse 8: 'But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.')
So enjoy your feelings of schadenfreude over the negligent mother duck (she is, after all, only a duck)! And take encouragement from the One who would leave 99 sheep to search for one lost sheep. The One who lays down his own life to make sure this sorry, silly sheep could be brought safely home to the Good Shepherd.
Sarah Urmston lives in Melbourne with her husband, Stephen. Having worked in public relations and communications as well as university student ministry, she's now getting used to the title of 'stay at home mum'.
Sarah Urmston's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-urmston.html