By Amanda Cleary Eastep
As I travel the roads through the Scottish countryside, acres of pastureland carpet the space between my rental car and the horizon. Sheep meander across the green like earthbound clouds, and the setting sun turns their fleece golden.
But I see no shepherd in this idyllic still life that has hung in my memory since that trip during my college days.
It’s a very different image from the one my daughter found online recently of an Iranian shepherd, covered in a brown cloak and guiding his flock through a snowy landscape. He carries one sheep under his arm and his staff in the opposite hand. He seems ancient and out of place in our “modern” world. But there he is, looking all “tending his flocks by night.”
I had always heard that sheep were stupid. They’re followers. And they kinda stink.
So I understand the reluctance–even of Christians who love Jesus–to accept the idea of needing a Good Shepherd.
When our house church met last Friday, December 30, our pastor asked each of us to share our goals for the new year.
Going around the circle of people gathered in my parents’ living room, we expressed everything from staying healthy to seeing the Northern Lights.
Then we read Psalm 23, focusing on the first few words: “The Lord is my shepherd.”
In essence, we belong to him. Depend on him. Trust that he loves us. (How do we wrap our arrogant, 21st Century minds around that?)
But the next question the pastor asked was more eye-opening for me.
If you believe you belong to God, how does that affect your goals and dreams for 2017?
What do my goals look like when I intentionally choose them in the context of allowing myself to be shepherded?
The next day on Facebook, author Esther Emery asked followers [see? we already are] if they were taking part in the popular practice of choosing “one word” to direct them in the new year. I had been contemplating the word “open.”
This was the same day I was driving my youngest to the airport to fly to Israel.
I had awoken at 3 a.m. feeling anxious, so I started to murmur “the Lord is my shepherd” until I fell back asleep. When my daughter messaged me later that night about some travel concerns, I prayed another part of the Psalm: “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”
That kind of settled it. My one word for 2017 is SHEPHERDED.
I’ve never sought God before choosing a theme or #oneword (or whatever catchy thing they’re hashtagging it these days). But on January 1, I did.
Allowing God to shepherd me changes my mindset. It also requires me to give up control and my mistrust and my wandering.
I wander when I worry. When I doubt. When I rely on my own strength. Even when I set goals without first seeking God’s will.
Each day this year, I will be more cognizant than ever that I am faced with a choice:
Remain under the loving eye of the Shepherd or stray…trot away toward the shiny thing, cower beneath the brush not knowing the lion lurks there, pretend I am in control of my sinful nature, which is my own wolf in sheep’s clothing.
What are your goals for 2017? Do they look different when you contemplate them in light of your faith? If you don’t follow a particular faith tradition, do you have a set of values that you base your plans upon?