Christmas. Day 35: The Shepherd with the Sheep

Christmas. Day 35: The Shepherd with the Sheep

Opening Prayer. Oh good shepherd, gather me close to you and hold me in your heart. AMEN.

Scripture. Isaiah 40:11.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.

The Shepherd with the Sheep. From Tracy Mooty.

This year, when I prayerfully closed my eyes and drew a card from the Advent Perspectives set, I first saw the written side that told me I would be journeying through Advent with the shepherd.  When I turned the card over, however, and saw the image of the shepherd cradling the sheep, I knew immediately, from the emotion that welled up inside me, that my real invitation for this Advent season was to learn more from the sheep about how to be held in the shepherd’s arms. How did I know?

Both by nature and by family and cultural conditioning, I am a helper, a fixer, a doer, a lover!  Graced by God with the gift of a tender heart, I have devoted much of my life to care-giving —for lost and injured animals as a child; for friends in need of sharing joys and concerns as a student; for employees to discuss work related issues as a human resources professional.  Once I became a Christian, I was even more passionate about loving and serving in this way because I then had the added joy of doing good for God! As mother to three daughters and daughter to aging parents this inclination grew stronger.  And now, with three sons-in-love and seven grandchildren (our cherished cast of characters!) all home for the Christmas holiday, our inn will be bursting at the seams! Can you picture my growing list of delightful things I hope to have prepared for their arrival, feel my adrenaline pumping, sense my breathing getting more rapid, notice my muscles tensing and see me lacing up my running shoes?

It’s precisely at these times, if I can slow down enough to pay attention, I discover how I can easily want to do so much for that I’m left with hardly any time to be with.  I can run so far and so fast in the name of doing good that I lose touch with the shepherd—my truest source of direction, power, and peace.  As I am out there largely under my own efforts, it soon becomes glaringly apparent that all my human energies are finite, that I am quite naturally prone to wander away from a healthy balance between doing and being and that I easily wear myself out; that what I really most need and want is to be held in the shepherd’s arms.

As often happens with this Advent companion experience, shortly after I welcomed the sheep in the shepherd’s arms as my companion, I rediscovered this quote in Letting God by A. Philip Parham:

If we watch the sheep in a pasture, we will see them do an interesting thing.  Sometime during the day, each sheep, entirely on its own, leaves the flock and trots over to the shepherd, one at a time.  The shepherd tenderly caresses the nose and ears, rubs the neck and head, and whispers in its ear.  Calmed, encouraged, and reassured, the sheep goes back to graze with the rest.

Suddenly, as I find myself able to take a full, deep breath again, I can consider what it actually means for me to be held in the shepherd’s warm and tender embrace.  As I gaze back at the image on the card, I am reminded to begin my day gently, with enough time for prayer and for my Shepherd to speak into all my plans for the day; to build in small touch points with my Shepherd throughout the day like lighting a candle, listening to soothing music, savoring a meal, watching a snowfall, drawing apart to a quiet place, being fully present in the moment, accepting help that is offered, treating myself with kindness, or allowing myself not to do something; and at day’s end, to invite my Shepherd to gently review with me how well I balanced my going forth and my snuggling in.  How about you?

Questions for Reflection

  • In which seasons or circumstances are you most likely to lose your balance, lose your way?
  • What are the signs that indicate you’ve wandered too far from your Shepherd?
  • How do you allow yourself to be held and loved by your Shepherd?

Closing Prayer. Gracious Shepherd, your desire is to tend, to gather, to carry your sheep.  Help me to put my desire to do good in its proper perspective so that I can open myself fully to receive your great love and care.  AMEN.

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