I was sitting in my discussion group at Bible Study, still a little distracted from a busy morning getting kids out the door. We were on the cusp of Sean changing jobs, I had a full week of projects, decisions, and the regular ins and outs of managing a household of seven. I had done my study, but a bit distractedly. My mind was already skipping ahead to the Costco trip I was planning that afternoon.
We were parked in John 10, the chapter about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. I tuned in as our group systematically answered the questions, “What would you conclude about Jesus and His identity from His words in John 10?” “What does Jesus give His sheep and why?”
Out of nowhere I was gut punched with a memory.
Hearing the questions out loud instantly transported me to another time I studied John, in this same place but seven years ago. Seven years ago I was living in a different town. I was in a different discussion group that met in a different room, but the set of questions was the same and that’s all it took to jar the memory. All year I’ve gone without thinking extensively about the study of John seven years ago…until the lesson on the Good Shepherd.
Seven years ago sucked. Everything was shaken. I had discovered hard things about my parent’s marriage and ugly things about their past. I felt like much of my childhood must have been a lie. I was trying to reconcile how to forgive the past when the past was bleeding all over the present. I was parenting three very small children while my own marriage had been drilled into the ground. I was stretched paying bills, stretched in the every day, with hard faith questions that needed answering. I was disoriented, defeated and beat up. I was curled up in my quiet time chair with my pile of regrets and “if only”s laid out on my lap. “Lord, I’m trying so hard to be faithful…why can’t I see you being faithful!?”
I had gripped my Bible, pushing through John 10.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep….14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
When you’re living your life feeling tricked, it’s hard to see a Good Shepherd holding it in His hands. John 10 felt more like salt on a wound than comforting truth. Through somewhat gritted teeth I had said, “I believe you are good, Jesus. I know you laid down your life for me, and that IS good. I believe you are good because it says right here you are. I believe you are good… but I wish you were gentle. I don’t feel like you’re all that gentle. Please, be gentle.”
I asked Jesus to show me His hand. I kept going. Kind of. Tripping, asking questions, hitting potholes, wallowing, then up again. I didn’t know at the time I was experiencing John 10:28-29, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” I flailed…I failed…but ultimately (and only by His hand) I was preserved; preserved enough to make it here seven years later, for round two of studying John.
I think I answered some questions during discussion, but as we moved into our lecture I was still seven years away in my mind. Our lecture leader said to our group, although I’m quite sure it was directly for me, “Sheep don’t evaluate or agree to the plan. They simply trust the voice of the Shepherd. I can obey even if I don’t know where He is leading.”
I smiled ironically, remembering my cry seven years ago, “Lord, what is the plan here!? I’m going to need to know the plan.” If I didn’t like His plan, maybe I’d just make up my own.
I've wrestled in these in between years. I wrestled with God’s goodness. I wrestled with my own preconceived ideas. I asked God about His gentleness when everything feels harsh. I asked Him to help me get to the bottom of what my feelings were pointing to. I was angry because I felt hung out to dry. I uncovered a (wrong) belief that my ways could bring more fulfillment than God’s. I found doubt. I learned to declare truth to my feelings. I watched God root out wrong beliefs and fill the muddy holes with truth from His Word.
Somewhere along the line my prayer changed from, “Fix this” to, “What do you want to show me in this?” I went from praying, “What is the answer for this?” to praying, “Who are you in this?” I went from saying, “I’ll be ok when _____ and _____ happen” to saying, “I am ok because God sustains me today.” I have learned less about the plan and more about trusting the voice of the Shepherd.
I’ve had a lot of weary woven into the victories. Some of those circumstances from seven years ago have improved and some not at all. I’ve changed. Jesus answered me. He didn’t answer me with circumstances. He answered with Himself. Each time I insisted He look at the gnarled mess in my lap, He brought my eyes back to Him.
I came across Elisabeth Elliot’s words, “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” Elisabeth had to reconcile faith questions, forgiveness when her husband was martyred, and a complete surrender to God’s plans when her own fell flat. Her words resonate with me now. Not in an inspirational quote, that-sounds-pretty, kind of way, but in an, “Oh! I’ve experienced this, too!” way. My pursuit isn’t better circumstances. My pursuit is Christ.
I don’t know how to explain the mystery that occurs when the Holy Spirit shifts my prayers and focus from circumstance to Himself. My attempts at explaining are over simplified or a series of lofty sounding words–freedom, grace, relief, humble, personal, eye opening...none of that comes close. I suppose it's a bit of a free, grace filled, relieved, humble, personal, eye opening mystery. He somehow landed me here, able to say with deep peace, “I’m ok. It is well because He is the Good Shepherd.”
I spent the week of John 10 on the brink of tears as Jesus showed me how He’s spent the past seven years sweeping restoration into my soul as the Good Shepherd. Ah, the beauty of hindsight! He reminded me that He leads His sheep. He doesn’t drive us from behind…He goes ahead. This is gentle. He went ahead in His sacrifice for my sins and securing eternal salvation. He also goes ahead of me on a daily basis. This is gentle. He showed me how He answered years of prayers while I was blind to see it. This is gentle. He reminded me of His forgiveness when I turned my back. This is gentle. Tears pooled as I found myself able to proclaim, “Jesus, you are good. You are good AND you are gentle.” I know this as a fact because it’s in His Word, but I also know it because I’ve experienced it. I know it because He answered.
May your Easter be filled with the truth that Jesus is your Good Shepherd. May you not only know He is the Good Shepherd, but may you experience Him as your Good Shepherd. He has risen!
“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
Just throwing myself out there a bit...