Back when I was dating my husband, totally in love and willing to go anywhere to meet up with him, he gave me the address of a NYC bar he would be hanging out at. I pushed my way into the noisy crowd; the room was filled, no empty stools or chairs, and I could not for the life of me see the one I came in search of; the one I longed to be near. But... I could hear his voice. I knew his voice. I loved his voice. And so I followed it, until finally, I found his face.
My 8 year old son sang in his school spring school concert this week. Over thirty children stood on those risers, belting out song after song; a beautiful mess of little voices, sweet and loud, and although they sang in unison, I could hear my son's voice. His voice, the voice I know, I could pick out, despite all of the other tiny voices around him. I love my son. I know my son's voice.
And so I have always loved the parable of the lost sheep. I have always loved the idea that I am that lamb, and that no matter how far off I roam, how lost I get (and trust me, I do get lost), the good shepherd will find me, place me on his shoulders, and carry me safely back to my flock. This idea that despite my ugliness, the good shepherd loves me-this idea that no matter how off track I get, the good shepherd loves me enough, that he can hear me calling out to him, no matter how many miles I have chosen to put between us-this idea that there will always be strong shoulders to carry me...it is just something, a hope I suppose, I have always held onto.
What I recently learned, and never knew, was the reason why the shepherd puts me on his shoulders. Upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd would break the legs of the lamb. Then, he would have to carry the lamb on his shoulders, until the lamb was strong enough to walk again on his own. And he did this, not as punishment to keep the lamb from running off again, but rather, to keep the lamb close to him, so that the lamb could learn the sound of the shepherds voice. Like my newborn babies, vulnerable and trusting, who I swaddled to my breast, who could not stand on their own, who needed me to keep them safe, the good shepherd does the same with me: he breaks me down, detaches me from all, and draws me close to Him. He speaks, and because I am close, I listen. He breaks me, because he loves me; because I belong to him. I learn his voice.
I have had my legs broken. I have lived those moments when there was no way I could walk on my own; when I had no choice but to rest on His shoulders and listen to His voice. And how amazing it is, and by amazing I truly mean stupid, that it never seems to fail that once I get my own legs back, I run off again! I leave the flock, thinking "I've got this! I can do this on my own!" And how dangerous this is. Because remember, not only do we have a good shepherd looking out for us, but we also have that wolf. The wolf that is always searching for that lost lamb. The wolf that catches and scatters. Don't kid yourself into thinking that you are safe outside of the fold. That wolf? I have seen him. He runs through my marriage, he paces outside of my children's bedroom doors, he waits for me by my bedside, he paces back and forth through my home. That wolf is searching for you, he is searching for your spouse, he is searching for everyone you love. And he never tires of trying to catch you.
Terrified? You should be. Because it terrifies me. But when I feel the fear of the wolf is stronger than my trust in God, I get down on my knees, and become small at the foot of the cross, and I pray to become that lost lamb. I rejoice in any troubling circumstance, and I pray in gratitude for whatever it is in my life that is crippling me. Because if this life has taught me anything, it is that I am so much better off when the comforts of this world have been taken from me; when I feel poor and empty, vulnerable and scared; because it is then that hope swoops in, breaks my legs, and lovingly puts me on his shoulders. And I can rest there in peace, because I know his voice, and he knows mine; he is carrying me back to safety.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me