“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11 KJV
My favorite images of Jesus are of him as Shepherd. While I’m moved to humility when I see him on the cross, challenged to make waves where there is injustice, calmed when I see him standing on the boat commanding the storm to be still, and inspired to have eyes for the hungry—both spiritually and physically—I’m never more sure of my devotion to Jesus than when I see him as Shepherd.
I love the intimacy between sheep and Shepherd, I guess.
I think about the young David, rejected and misunderstood by his family, singing songs in the field surrounded by his sheep to soothe their anxieties, and I can’t help but see Jesus as my portion of peace. I think about King David and how angry he got at the prophet’s story about the man whose only, precious sheep was taken by his neighbor, not to be loved, but devoured as party fare and it makes me think that Jesus gets equally enraged when his innocent children are devoured by a greedy world. When I think about Jesus as my Great Shepherd, I am reminded of the Isaiah passage. I can’t help but envision Jesus feeding, gathering, carrying, and gently leading.
Suddenly, being a Christian feels less like a to-do list of righteousness and more of a to-be posture of relationship. I want to be open to his feeding and present for his gathering. I want to be accepting of his gentle leading and willing to be carried.
As I write this, I am two weeks into a six-week separation from my husband. He recently accepted an associate pastor position in Los Angeles and since our family is based and bred in Boston, we decided a “staggered move” would be best—one where he leaves at the beginning of the year to get acclimated to the area and his new job, then comes back to get us for a 10-day cross country road trip before we start our lives in LA. We wanted to give the kids a chance to experience their last snow day and gather their friends together for one last goodbye. I wanted the chance to finally walk around Walden Pond and read something, anything, by Henry David Thoreau—a New England Dream I’ve never “had the time” to actualize.
When asked during our interview for the position if this was what we really wanted we were confident. Maybe, naively so.
“Osheta’s the most resourceful woman I know,” my husband promised.
“I want TC to have as smooth of a transition as possible,” I added.
And it was settled. A week later, the pastor called us and told my husband that he got the job. In less than two months, he’d be flying from Boston, leaving his job as a teacher for proven-risk teens to become a pastor of a church adjacent to Skid Row.
The kids and I watched him drag two suitcases through the sliding doors at the airport—one devoted to, and bulging with, all the books he couldn’t stand to leave—and my daughter immediately said, “Mama, you’re going to miss him.”
It was true. The sense of loss was almost tangible.
My partner and the other half of me—the man who holds me when I’m spinning out and listens to me verbally process the grocery list—was gone for the next few weeks. Between Skype and the iPhone, long distance relationships are easier and harder, at the same time. They make for an incomplete and an already-but-not-yet way of relating to your lover, with towers and streaming services as your mediator.
Which is why these past couple of weeks I’ve been leaning into Jesus as my Shepherd.
I feel so lost sometimes. Some mornings, I just look with cautious amazement at the three babies for whom, at least for the next month and a half, I’m completely responsible. It’s a daunting endeavor traversing this new ground as sole caretaker, distant partner and soon-to-be pastor’s wife. So much so, that I’m starting to worry if I’m good enough, if I’ll make the right choices, or if I might scar these babies for life.
But then, I think about the sheep. They don’t know the path on which they are going and yet they follow their Shepherd.
They don’t know the best way to navigate the rocky terrain, or negotiate the expansive valleys, or overcome potential threats. And that’s ok. That’s the Shepherd’s job.
As I remember this, I sigh with relief. It’s God’s job—and I would venture to say, His joy—to be our Great Shepherd, our Beloved Gatherer.
I’m shouldering these babies, but I know who is shouldering me.
So, every day, my Sheep’s prayer to her Shepherd is:
“Jesus, Shepherd me with your love. Lead me as a lamb with her young, gently towards places of nourishment. I’m pregnant with hopes and dreams, fear and anxieties, failures and worries, vision and passion. I’m full to term and you see me, I know you see me. You’re a good Shepherd aware that I’m groaning under the weight of it all. Feed me with peace. Satisfy me with patience. Deliver me with love. Gather me to your heart so that I can hear its truest beat. I want to walk behind your zig-zag pattern of Shalom, so today, I will listen into you. Then my young, who know my voice, will follow and we will make progress, Lord. Progress, as we move From Boston to LA; progress, as we move from our brokenness into wholeness; progress, as we trample the thistles and brambles of injustice following You, our Good, Great, and Lovely Shepherd.”
Image credit: Peer Lawther