(Remember Aesop’s Fables? Today’s thoughts came to me in fable form. Let this little story prompt thought and reflection as you move through your day.)
Spunky was quite the lamb. Frisky and playful as a little one. Fun to watch. Always brought a smile. Developing years brought a sense of ambition and drive unlike most of Spunky’s peers. The older ewes wagged their fingers and cautioned each other over tea, “that may not be all good” while the bucks commented on his potential and tried to imagine what a great sheep he would be as a grown-up.
And sure enough, he became an achiever. An over-achiever, his mother sometimes said, but she was proud of him. The whole flock was. So was the shepherd. Most of the time. But the shepherd noticed the subtle signs of extra curricular activity that escaped the rest. Nervousness for no apparent reason. Restlessness. Little “unexplainables” those around him considered just part of being an ambitious sheep, side-effects of being so active.
The shepherd never told anyone about the times he caught Spunky in the middle of something and sent him back to the fold, or the times when out of the corner of his eye he saw him slip back into place after being where he shouldn’t have been. But he noticed. He noted Spunky was wandering off more often, and that his little excursions were getting longer and longer each time. Spunky’s shepherd is a patient soul but the day finally came. He found Spunky caught in a bramble bush at what seemed to Spunky like the worst possible moment and picked him out of the thicket before Spunky could wriggle himself free again. One great reputation – ruined. He draped the prone-to-wander member of his flock across his lap and held him still until the struggling stopped. Then broke his leg — while others looked on. It wasn’t that he hated Spunky or anything, he knew what had to be done, and did it.
Spunky protested, bleated and cried. The shepherd wiped his own tears away, knowing the young sheep was in pain, then bent down to carefully set and wrap the leg he’d broken moments before. “I know it hurts. But I had to.”
The days that followed revealed much about the now-mamed sheep, about his peers, about the flock in general. But of primary concern was the way the shepherd wanted this sheep to begin to relate to him. He held him when he was in obvious pain and reassured him with his presence. He brought food and water to him since he couldn’t walk. He fed him. When he squirmed the shepherd drew him close with his strong arms until the struggle subsided, then lulled him to sleep with quiet lullabies. He let him sleep while the others grazed. He carried him. Spoke kindly to him. Let him hear his voice in quiet tones and loud. He kept him with him, even in the silent hours. And told him again and again, “Trust me. One day you’ll see what this is all about.”
The yearlings went on without him, and Spunky learned it did no good to bleat after them. It was theirs to play and graze and drink, and nap where they wished. His was to be right here. He discovered that he now to looked to see that the shepherd was near; he used to look to see if he was anywhere close before he snuck away.
The day eventually came when he could put a bit of weight on his leg and he took a step or two under the watchful shepherd’s eye. Then he walked. When he grew tired the shepherd scooped him up with strength and gentleness and brought him back to the fire.
The older ewes still talked about him, but not as harshly as before. The bucks and rams gradually came to regard him as a sheep worth having around. It was a while before they actually said it, but the shepherd’s plan began to be recognized for what it was. A way back. A deliverance from the fate he’d been moving toward. A rescue; a definitive, intentional rescue. He’d learned what the shepherd wanted him to learn. His strength had returned but his independent streak was gone. In its place was a closeness with the shepherd he had learned to enjoy.
Late one summer afternoon the shepherd spoke to him as they walked among the flock. “Go on young man, it’s OK.” And he ventured out a little ways. He turned to see the shepherd watching and stopped. “Go ahead, you can do it.” So he went a little further to drink and graze on his own. It felt new. It felt wonderful! He didn’t stay long, though; he quickly returned to the shepherd’s side.
The shepherd reached down and affectionately scratched him behind the ears. Looking up into the shepherd’s face he leaned against the kind man and enjoyed the attention. “You know, ‘Spunky’ really doesn’t fit you anymore.” He thought a moment while he scratched his ears some more, “How ’bout if I call you ‘Champ’. I know now, that’s what you will be.”
“Champ”. No one had ever called him that before, though he used to strut like one. He looked up and into his shepherd’s eyes. “You call, I’ll come.”
“Attaboy,” the shepherd smiled, and began to call the rest of the flock to him name by name as the sun settled in the west. One name at a time he called them, but Champ was already at his side. What’s more, he was content there. He’d come to love it close to the shepherd. And that is as it the shepherd wanted it.
The Good Shepherd will always do what’s best for his sheep, even if it means pain and discomfort for a time. He knows what He’s doing.