“Aw, Girl, you’re just plain ugly right now; it’s awful to look at you! It’s gonna be okay, though. Please be nice to Cleo. It’ll be all over soon.”
This is what I am telling my chicken, Greta, this week.
Bedraggled, out of sorts, triggered by anything and totally annoyed by everything, she is fighting with little Cleo on the roost at bedtime, trying to peck her feet and head and make her fall. “I want more space on the roosting bar, thank you very much, and please do NOT touch me!” I can hear her say in her imaginary, irritated, high-pitched chicken voice. Last year she may have blinded her best friend, Hedy, in a crazy chicken rage, and she certainly pecked other girls to the point of blood–dangerous when you consider chickens go crazy at the sight of it.
She has to be one of the skinniest, mangiest-looking, angry birds in the coop right now.
You would be, too, if you were a chicken during molting season.
According to Michigan State University Extension, birds experience their annual molt, the time when they shed and then grow new feathers, at the end of the fall. So Greta’s losing her feathers a little ahead of schedule but that’s okay. At least she’s in the right time of year.
Last year, one of my other girls, Silkie, decided to molt in the dead of winter. How would you like to expose your backside chicken flesh for a week when it’s zero degrees? Silkie has a different disposition than my more demanding Greta; she’s a lover and a brooder and oh, so naturally nurturing. So even with the worst timing and circumstances shedding her white fluffiness, she wasn’t nearly as temperamental or angry a bird as Greta.
I can tell one of my girls is molting before I ever look at her.
As the sun is coming up over the horizon, I make my way out into the early morning light and the sounds of creation in my “chicken shoes.” The grass is dewey and if I look back I can see my tracks as they have bent the blades down, making my footfall patterns darker than the rest. As I open up their little side door, I peer in and greet my hens. In this split second, I can see the telltale sign.
It looks like a down pillow exploded overnight in the chicken house! Tons of soft beautiful feathers have fallen all over the floor of the coop. By the color and pattern, I can usually tell which girl it is and confirm it when I open the larger human entrance: it is always the hen who looks miserable.
When your flock begins to molt, experts tell backyard chicken keepers to add high-quality protein, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to chickens’ diet. The molting process can really kill a chicken’s ability to fight infection, infestations (worms and mites), and illnesses. You have to give them a serious boost of nutrition. I like feeding my girls freeze-dried mealworms and any leftover meat from our dinner, especially cooked salmon skins or pork chop bones.
Here’s one more thing: When chickens molt, they stop producing eggs because at this time, their bodies have to be geared toward producing and regrowing feathers. And as a Church Girl that understands good chicken husbandry, I know not to expect Greta to lay right now; I have to give her some grace and care for her needs, managing her moods and attitudes, trying to protect the other hens as she creates her new feathers.
Spiritually, human souls under the Holy Spirit molt, too. There are these things that have kept us warm through a season, but in the end, they are what they are: broken, dirty, ragged feathers. God has something new for us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV84)
“Throw off,” not just molt! Man, that sin sometimes just HANGS off of us, like nasty stinkin’ feathers waiting to be released. Why do we hold on?
The Holy Spirit is trying to help pluck off all those old things but we keep grabbing them up off the chicken coop floor and trying to cover our nakedness, our bright pink chicken skin. And God is looking at us, thinking, I have such a beautiful new plume for you, Child! Don’t you know I have a whole NEW look, a whole new set of feathers that will serve you SO much better than these old things.
And we fight it. We fight Him.
Do we go on, acting like Grumpy Greta, through the entire process? Sometimes, yes. But this is a process, as painful as it can be, that every Christian needs to endure daily. Some seasons are longer and harder, but this is the process of sanctification–not just getting better but getting closer to God.
And the answer to the question, How can you endure this? is quite simply found in the next line of Scripture:
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 1:2 (NIV84)
You know, come to think of it, Jesus had a few painful molts, too. One from heaven to earth, and the other from execution and resurrection to glorification. His feathers were perfect the entire time but in the end, He became bare and naked and vulnerable for each of us–He let mankind rip them out. It was an excruciating process that involved beard-plucking and whips and thorns and nails and spears on bare skin; those nails pierced Jesus straight through to the cross behind Him. Yet He endured–for you and for me–and scorned its shame, sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God when the work was completed.
Sometimes when we molt, it’s easy. We know it’s coming and prepare. We endure the pain of regrowth with grace, keeping our mouths shut and our minds on Christ. We trust the process.
Then there are the “hard” molts.
I have had my share of hard molts and my seasons of ugly. These are times I have erred more on the side of “Thrashing Greta” than of “Sweet Silkie.” Are there are times we molt kicking and screaming, pecking and clawing?
*sounds of crickets chirping*
When the Holy Spirit is stripping every feather away, down to that ugly chicken skin, and as if that weren’t enough, when the pin feathers come in feeling like needles, our souls scream, WHAT IS THIS? At times our flesh likes to fight tooth and beak against this very normal, natural growth process.
Because some molts hurt worse than others. And some molts come at the worst times.
But the solution is always the same…high-quality spiritual food in the form of God’s Word, prayer, and remembering to fix our eyes on Jesus.
“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3 (NIV84)
Friend, don’t grow weary or lose heart. You have a whole new set of beautiful feathers just waiting to come in…the next season is almost here!