This morning my mind is mulling over two things.
Sheep and deserts.
A little while ago, on the recommendation of a coworker, I bought the devotional book Earth Psalms by Francine Rivers. Yes, the same Francine Rivers who has written many Christian fiction books. My coworker, who has a masters degree in Biology, said she loved the book not only for its written content but also for the beautiful pictures of nature included within its pages. After reading the first couple pages, I have to say I concur with her opinion of the book. It is perfect for an early morning time spent thinking about God, and the pictures really are beautiful. I also love the random facts the author sometimes includes about something she had written. These little tidbits always point back to a Creator God who made nature magnificently beautiful and intricately complicated in order to show mankind His hand.
Enough for the sales pitch for the book…
This morning the devotional was about sheep. I’m sure most church going folk have heard, more than once, the comparison of humans to sheep. I won’t belabor that part of the writing. What caught my attention most was the fact that sheep need a flock and a human to guard that flock . A sheep left alone will almost surely die, for it will succumb to fear and be an easy lunch for predators. The author’s point, of course, was that Christians need a flock and a shepherd as well. If a Christian sets out on his or her own, leaving behind the other Christians they used to gather with as well as leaving behind the shepherd who is supposed to care for them, that Christian is an easy target for Satan. In fact, according to my reading this morning, Satan waits for churches to split and/or for Christians to leave their church and decide to do life alone. He knows that it will only be a matter of time then that the Christian, with no encouragement from others, will stop reading the Bible and praying. Sheep are by nature wanderers. Since Jesus Himself compares us to sheep, wandering is a characteristic of not only sheep but also of Christ followers.
The other thing my mind has been pondering a lot as of late is the concept of a desert. The two were not connected in my devotional reading this morning, but they are very much connected in my life right now.
If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you know that the Israelites had to wander forty years in the desert before finally reaching the promised land, part of what is now Israel on a map. The wandering came because of disobedience on the part of the Israelites. In fact, an entire generation was not allowed to enter the promised land–they were made to wander until all of that generation has died. Deserts are not a fun place. How many families sit down to plan a family vacation and say, with enthusiasm, “We should vacation in the desert this year! All that hot sand and no water or anything to do! We could just wander around aimlessly for our vacation week, boiling in the hot sun, and burning our feet in the sand!”
Yeah. I don’t think anyone thinks of the desert as a top vacation spot.
How are these two things related?
Looking back at my journal this morning, I read an entry from a year ago. It was pretty clear that I was entering a desert at that time. As the days, weeks, and months passed, my desert wanderings made me grow weary. I couldn’t find a way out of the desert. I was a sheep, alone in a very dangerous place. The “flock” I had once thought I belonged to gradually begin to disappear..most of them forgot I even existed. I certainly don’t blame them. Who wants to follow a sheep into a hot, miserable desert? The more I wandered, the more weary and lost I became. I would see what I thought was an exit–a spring of water that would allow me to recover my lost strength and find my way out of the desert. But, just like in Hollywood movies, the water was a mirage. That would only send me further into the darkness and barrenness of my desert. I was lost and quickly dying in the misery of my desert wandering.
I’d love to end this with a victorious account of how I was rescued from the desert–how I was joyfully reunited with the flock I had wandered from. But I cannot end this that way. I am still in the desert. And although I have found my way back to the flock, I am still not sure I am welcomed back. It is kind of like when I take our diabetic cat to the vet for a blood sugar check. Our other cat has grown up with the diabetic cat; they are friends. Yet, when I bring him home, he has the smell of the vet’s office on him. This causes his sister to hiss at him if he tries to go near her. Even though just a few hours prior they were playing together, once he is “taken” from that scenario, it is hard for him to be welcomed back by her. Eventually, though, the hissing stops and they act like nothing ever happened. Maybe that will be my experience should I ever find my way out of the desert that has imprisoned me for so long. A note about this paragraph: not all the sheep abandoned me to die in the desert. A very small number walked into that desert with me. The last year has shown who my true friends really are. A couple of them are not even part of my “flock”, yet they were not afraid of the darkness that enveloped me. They resisted my pushing them away in order to stay by my side during these tough times.
I don’t know if sheep think like humans do. I doubt they have that reasoning ability. For me, it is hard to feel wanted or loved in the flock I am part of. Maybe sheep don’t care if they feel wanted or loved. Maybe they just care about being part of a guarded flock so they are safe to graze endlessly. Humans, though, need to feel loved, wanted, and even needed. A year ago I felt all those things, but the length of time wandering in this miserable desert and the fact that the flock around me doesn’t need me in the roles I once played, leaves me feeling vulnerable to the predator who wants to see my demise. Thankfully, I have wandered enough to know that there is a great Shepherd who, despite my resistance and bad decisions, loves me regardless. My desert wandering isn’t over yet. I wonder if it ever will be on this earth. There are potentially serious issues I may face in the next few weeks. I am scared. Sheep get scared too. When that happens, they bleat to alert the shepherd that something is wrong. Countless times I have cried out to the Great Shepherd. I feel like He has abandoned me. It is often difficult to remember what is true as opposed to going by how I feel.
I feel alone. I feel unloved and unloveable. I feel scared of what I may face in the coming weeks…BUT, I am trying hard, with the help of a select few other sheep, to keep my eye on the Shepherd. He loves His sheep, even when they wander away.