For the final paper in my Theology of Jesus class, my professor asked us to write 1000 words on how our thinking has changed during this class. He didn’t give us any other direction and said we could write however we wanted. I decided to tell a story:
There is one word that can summarize this story: unbearable. It was unbearable to lay there across His shoulders for miles in the hot sun. It was unbearable to talk with Him and try to make Him understand how unbearable He was being. It was unbearble to lay there bouncing cross His shoulders all day trying to convince Him how right I was. It was unbearable to be set down on the ground at the end of it all and realize that I was wrong.
I’m not wrong often, but this time I was wrong in a big way. Typically I’m not wrong, not for any cleverness of myself, but simply because I do not need to make many choices. My choices are made for me, guided and directed by Him. He calls and leads me to eat and drink when I need to. He shows me where to lay my head to sleep at the end of the day. He points me in the direction of safe paths. He chooses my friends and whom I spend my days with. In essesnse, he sets up the framework for most of my decisions, I just need to participate in them.
It was on this unbearable day that I decided to help. So, I left. I left it all behind. My entire family, all my friends, all of the comforts He provided, I dropped them all and set out. I did not have a specific place that I was headed, I just thought that I could help. There were a lot of mouths to feed and it was just He that looked and found food. There were a lot of us to keep safe at night, so I left to find shelter. There was a lot to do, and I felt that I needed to participate in accomplishing those “to-do’s”, so I left.
I did not plan on going far. Initially I thought that if I stayed within eye-shot of Him I could come back easily when He called. But when I did not find what I was looking for within eye-sight of Him, I ventured a little further, and a little further, and a little further, until I was gone. I could not hear Him, I could not see Him.
I will not bore you with the mundane details of where I went and what I saw, for it was very little. Frankly, I do not fully remember what I did see simply because it was so unremarkable in contrast to what I did not see: I didn’t see Him. And His absense was much more vivid than what was in front of my eyes.
Thinking back, it seemed like ages had passed since I was with Him. It felt like much longer than it actually was, but the void of His presence made everything else seem askew. It was the sound of his gasp that brought me back to the normal rhythm of time and distance. I still do not recall if he actually gasped or if it was simply the exhale of relief in his embrace, but the ‘whoosh’ of his arms around me was frighteningly loud. And in one swift motion, he was carrying me. And so, our unbearble conversation began.
“Little One,” He said to me, “I have searched long for you. It’s going to be OK. I’ll show you the way back home.”
I was confused at this remark. What did he mean, “it’s going to be OK”? Of course I knew it was going to be OK. I was never in any danger. I was not lost – per se – since I did not have an end-destination in mind. I knew I wasn’t with Him, but that didn’t necessarily bother me at the time.
“Of course I’m OK,” I replied. “I know where I am, I know what I’m doing, and I know why I’m doing it. I have always been OK.” This seemed like a perfectly succinct answer me. Surely He would l set me down to continue what I was doing.
“Little One,” he continued, “and where do you think you are, and what do you think you are doing, and why are you doing it?”
“Well Sir, currently I am sitting on your shoulders. It’s rather unbearble, to tell you the truth. It’s hot up here, and I would prefer to walk.”
“But Little One, if you walk, how can I bring you back?”
This reply perplexed me. Back? Why would he take me back? I left for a reason and it seemed like He was simply getting in the way. I said to him, “I don’t think you understand what I’m trying to do out here.”
“By all means, Little One, explain it to me.”
So I began, “Sir, my family and I have many needs. We eat much more than You, we drink much more than You. We need more space to walk and run and sleep than You. And everyday You are walking around showing us where to eat. You point us in the direction of water. You keep us safe while we sleep. You show us where to walk, run, climb, and play. This is a lot of work for just one Sir.”
“You are quite correct,” replied He. “It is a lot of work indeed.”
“Well, we are in agreement then, Sir. Kindly put me down so I may continue.”
“But, Little One, you have not yet told me what you are trying to accomplish.”
At this point I was frustrated. I was frustrated with the heat on my back. I was frustrated with the joints of his shoulders pressing against my front. I was frustrated with the conversation and his apparent ignorance to understand what I was actually trying to do.
“Sir,” I continued, “You have a lot to do. I thought that if I were out here, I could help you do all that work. I can help find water, food, and a safe place to sleep. You need me to participate in helping You with your work. Don’t you understand that if I’m out here, I am helping you do the work?”
“Yes, Little One, you are helping me do the work. But so far out here, working on your own, how will I participate in that with you? If you find a place to sleep with shelter and warmth and a soft bed, then what? You have worked yourself apart from me.”
“But, you will have one less thing to do,” I argued.
“And how will you share that with me? You still do not understand who you are to me.”
At this point, my frustration hit a breaking point. Surely he was over-worked in the hot sun to ask such an unbearably simple question!
“Sir, of course I understand who I am to you. I’m a sheep. I’m herded, I’m sheered. I am a member of your flock. I’m a sheep!”
“Little One, are are quite correct. You are a sheep. But that is only what you are. Who you are is of far more importance to me. You see, you are a member of my flock. You live with me, you eat with me. You run, sleep, and travel with me. You learn from me. Your value to me is not as a sheep, but as a member of my flock.”
“Am I not acting as a member of your flock when I’m trying to help you do your work?”
“Yes, Little One. But I do not desire simple participation in my flock. I desire relationship with my flock. You have been distracted by what you are and have forgotten who you are. The goal my my flock is not participation, it’s relationship. I desire to be with you. When you leave me, even if it is to ‘do my work’, you are still apart from me. Do not be distracted by participating in our work and forsake participating in our relationship.
It was as he said this that we arrived back to the flock. I realized that I had been trying to work so hard in accomplishing the tasks of the Shepherd that I forgot about the relationship with my Shepherd. I had been wrong. I had been wrong to get caught up in all the “to-do’s” of membership in the flock and forgot about the relationships within the flock. He didn’t scold me for working, He scolded me for forsaking our relationship.
Quietly, and unbearably ashamed, I said, “Sir, I’m sorry that I went out on my own.”
In reply, he set me down with a smile, embraced me, and called to his friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep!”