The Impossible Task


October 26, 2012 by Jay Helms

It was often when I was a hurry that I would have to give it a shot.
Try as I might, I found it impossible. No matter what trick I tried I just couldn’t get it done. At times it was frustrating. At times it was maddening, actually. Other times it was literally humiliating. I have to say I never really found it amusing, though if you had been watching me try to do it, it is highly likely you would have found it funny.

I seriously (yes, seriously) considered diving to try to achieve success, but a little voice in my head (maybe it was my nervous mother-in-law’s voice trying to save my life) told me the next thing I’d do after diving was call an ambulance. So I never tried that. I did try grasping and lunging more times than I could count. I whispered. I shouted. I sprinted my hind-quarters off. I crept along more slowly and sleathily than a cat. I threw sticks (don’t judge until you’ve been through it yourself). I jumped. I squatted. None of it worked. Not by a long shot!

One day I decided I would make two ten foot poles out of long, straight saplings to use in my next attempt to complete the task. When the need arose to try again, I brought out my poles, giving me a 26 foot reach, from end to end…Utterly Useless! So, I abandoned hope, threw down my sticks, and officially quit trying to corral our 6 chickens into the coop. Forever. I decided to leave the door open to the coop and let them re-enter whenever they saw fit, and I would just have to live with it if a coyote came and ate them. I’m only a tiny bit bitter about it still. Can you tell?

Our son corralling the chicks. He had the magic touch then.

I laughed when I read on Wikipedia, that a Wild-goose chase is defined as “a futile search or fruitless errand, a task inordinately complex relative to its outcome.” That is perfect. I could have written it on my first try, as I know that truth in my bones. And I was only dealing with chickens. I can barely begin to imagine what chasing a wild goose is actually like.

The definition was amusing enough, but when I heard about a spiritual metaphor used by George MacLeod in 1940 related to wild geese, I was fascinated and touched. MacLeod formed the Iona Community on a small faraway island in Scotland in the 1930s.

MacLeod suggested that the Holy Spirit in Christian understanding can be symbolically represented not as a peaceful dove, but rather a Wild Goose. Doves are docile and delicate. The wild goose (or Helms Chicken for that matter) is unapologetically untamable, free, and unpredictable. Instead of a soft coo, the wild goose is raucous. It is always on the move. It lives somehow outside the realm of duty and obligation.

There are quite a few times I have tried to get ahold of the Holy Spirit and tame it, bending it to my wishes. They have been intense experiences for me. Yet MacLeod’s metaphor has reminded me that it is just not going to happen…not even with 2 perfectly selected ten foot poles. I’m embracing that truth and learning to get on with it. In the process, I have discovered it is awesome to take the journey of figuring out how to relate to One who loves me beyond my ability to comprehend, who works powerfully for good in my life and those around me, but who simply will not play by my rules and will not be constrained by my understandings or expectations. It is an adventure worth taking, perhaps the only one in all the world worth taking, as far as I am concerned.

Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”


The very same untamable chicken would allow my son to carry him around just like this…

4 thoughts on “The Impossible Task

  1. annewoodman says:

    Corralling chickens! So funny! I think it’s a good metaphor for a lot of difficult tasks in life, and spiritually… perfect.

    • Jay Helms says:

      Ever had chickens? We had them right before we moved to Breckenridge. we made sure they were clean, cute, and quiet. It was all great, except for the corralling.
      I really have come to think there are things God intends to show us in ordinary life. It’s easy to skip over them and get on with the next thing, but this one is one He seemed to bring to mind more often recently.

  2. Elizabeth Paul says:

    This is great! Really good reflections.

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