He had a delightful, crazy streak, a gentle sense of humour. So it came as no great surprise when our friend told Peter and me that his degree research meant he had to become a surrogate mother to a flock of ducklings!
This was to test a theory known as ‘animal imprinting.’ This claimed that certain animals -especially ducks and geese -were very impressionable. They would bond with the first thing that caught their eyes, after they broke out from their shells. Hopefully that would be their mother. But if not, they would form an inseparable attachment to the most unlikely of substitute mothers. Ducklings could become the best of friends with a cat or large dog –a creature which normally would make a meal of them. They’ve been known to become deeply attached to an inanimate object, such as a cardboard box or a wellington boot. Incidentally, (I’ve here adapted a cartoon which I found on the internet. Many thanks to the unknown artist!)
So, our friend studiously monitored the duck eggs from the moment they were put in the incubator. His research demanded that he had to be the first thing they saw as they hatched. He alone provided for their every need. Would they bond with him? To his delight, they waddled behind him, as he walked away. Later, when he rode off on his bike, they took to the air and flew behind him in the traditional ‘V’ formation. When he dismounted and lay on the grass they landed on top of his back! They’d become inseparable!
Our friend had obviously made a lasting impression on the newly-hatched ducklings. If he provided them with a substitute mother, they gave him the evidence he needed for his university degree. I wonder how he felt having such substitute children.
As I reflected on our friend’s crazy research I was reminded of the importance of first impressions –not just for ducklings, but for us people.
There are many, who from the start have been greatly blessed by being brought up in a loving family environment of devout, Christian parents. Their faith has become imprinted upon them. During their childhood they were introduced to God, and He has been with them throughout their lives. That’s how countless people first meet God. Thanks to His grace, they’ve stuck with Him, and He with them -despite their lapses.
Sadly, many more children do not grow up in a loving Christian atmosphere. Many are born into a godless and sometimes unloving world. With such an early imprint, we may well fear that they didn’t stand a chance of meeting God and of experiencing His love. But God can overcome that disadvantage. Unlike the ducklings, they do have free will and, with God’s help, can react against an unfavourable environment. And God can and does reach out to them in so many different ways. Often that’s through us believers. The impression we make may give them the first insight into what it means to be a follower of Christ. Meeting us can become the first step to their meeting Him. But do our lives inspire them to want to join us in following Christ? Or do we put them off Jesus and His way of life, probably without our realizing it? That’s an enormous responsibility.
I’m struck by the way Jesus created such a wonderful first impression on hard-headed fishermen, such as Peter and Andrew, the tempestuous Sons of Thunder -James and John. Instinctively they left everything and followed Jesus, even to the point of giving their very lives for Him. That first impression was ‘imprinting’ on the grand scale –far exceeding the bonding between our friend and the ducklings!
I’m sure that God wants us to meet Him by imprinting upon us an unshakeable trust in the wonder of His love and mercy, His total commitment to us. He wants this first impression to remain with us throughout the ups and downs of life.
Like our friend and the ducklings, you and I, may be the first impression or imprint some people will have of what being a Christian is all about. Will they be inspired to follow us to Jesus?