This is a devotional originally presented by Veronica Frans at the American Scientific Affiliation 2022 Annual meeting. The original presentation is found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDSGPv-dgww
When you take time to observe God’s creatures, God’s word is not only revealed in new ways, but it also brings new convictions into our hearts. I spent a year in the Falkland Islands. There, God taught me a lesson on boldness through one of His shyest of creatures, the gentoo penguin. I’d like to share this lesson with you today.
I will start by sharing this universal rule about wildlife: keep your distance. The locals call them “gentle gentoos” because if you get too close to just one of them, it can cause a panic among an entire colony where 50 to 200 or more gentoos all scramble about and run—or waddle—away, leaving their eggs behind in the chaos. An area that at first beams with life can quickly look abandoned. Thankfully, when it seems safe again, they do return, but witnessing such a disturbance can be heartbreaking, because whatever scared them was worth leaving the next generation behind.
Indeed, these gentoos are gentle.
But what caused them to become this way?
As I’ve watched the newborn chicks hatch from their eggs, it is easy to conclude that they enter the world equipped with boldness and not fear. They begin their lives in their weakest state. Very little physical strength, yet they almost immediately gape open their mouths with confident expectation, as they get regurgitated meals on demand. They boldly trust that when they ask, they will receive.
As they grow big enough to waddle around, they form groups among other chicks, and venture away from home for a bit. You can find them basking in the sun, lying flat on their bellies, without a care in the world. They boldly know to find rest in their community.
Later, in a rambunctious stage, these chicks get overwhelming. When parents return from sea to feed, the chicks are never really satisfied—and they make it known. As soon as feeding is done, a race begins. They chase their parents all around the colony. No matter the cost, they boldly push for more.
With time, there comes a point when their parents no longer return. Eventually, the chicks are left hungry, and that hunger drives them on a journey towards the sea. Some colonies could be 1 to 2 miles away, in the middle of a grassy field, with no water in sight. But somehow, a great migration of chicks begins. They boldly move forward without actually knowing the way.
This is the time when they begin to learn about the world. They boldly leave their comfort zone.
I got to witness their boldness one last time. A moment when I was walking and literally bumped into these young voyagers unexpectedly.
As soon as I saw them, I paused, not wanting to scare them.
Then, to my surprise, they ran toward me. A species I knew to be so delicate and afraid—and yet, at this stage in their lives, they approached me with confidence.
I was a Goliath to them, but they did not fear me.
They did not know me, but they followed me.
They couldn’t understand me, but they still spoke to me.
I didn’t reach out to them, but they poked and pulled me.
They even sneezed on me.
In the midst of their hunger, they boldly interrupted their journey to confront me.
This encounter was extremely heartwarming. But it was also heartbreaking.
It was in this moment—this closeness—that I finally understood. I understood why the locals called them “the gentle gentoos.”
The gentoos were born brave and confident. But it is when they reach the sea—when they finally make it and take their first dive—that their character is compromised.
The violent waves take them, as they quickly learn to swim. And as they dive deep, massive sea lions and seals chase them and devour their friends while others narrowly escape.
The gentle gentoos that were once so bold change because they encounter the world and it hurts them.
Others are sacrificed and scars are left behind. It scares them. Their light in the world grows dim.
Dear readers, when I see the gentoos and what they become when they experience the world, I think of myself. I think of all of us.
Do you remember when you were bold? When you confidently knew that the Father would always provide when you called out to Him? When you would boldly surround yourself with brothers and sisters in Christ and rest among them to restore your light? When you would boldly chase after the Father, asking for an outpouring of His goodness, His favor, His grace, and you were ready to receive it? When you would boldly follow a path where the end is not in sight? When you would leave your comfort zone for Christ’s name or for a hunger for what God has called you to do? Or when you would boldly face your own Goliaths, as they find you along the way?
I remember those times.
But then, there is the world.
Its waves pull us and shake us. More Goliaths come, but this time, they take a bite.
It can be scary.
We return to land wounded.
Dear readers, I pray that you will be restored and renewed. That your boldness will return—boldness for opportunities to share the gospel with your colleagues; boldness to pray for what seems impossible; boldness to make God’s truth known in this world of uncertainties; boldness for Him and for the sake of the next generation.
We are called to go back into those waves. Know that He is with you.
2 Timothy 1:6-14
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
About the author:
Veronica Frans is a quantitative ecologist and PhD candidate at Michigan State University. She is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and a Harvey Fellow. Veronica has lived, studied, and worked around the world, focusing on marine environments, community engagement, and conservation. Her studies focus on human influence on species’ distributions, and she is most known for her research on the New Zealand sea lion. She is active in many science and faith communities, as she is Vice President of Christian Women in Science (an affiliate of the American Scientific Affiliation) and has also spoken at BioLogos events about Creation Care. Veronica is an active member within Every Nation Churches and Ministries.