I can still see the picture in my mind, clearly.
It was a shepherd, holding a lamb gently in his arms. I couldn’t explain why, but at 7 or 8 years old, it made me feel something in my heart. And for a variety of reasons in my young life I both wanted and needed to believe in him.
The picture was of Jesus, the good shepherd. When asked what I wanted for Christmas when I was 10, I said a Bible. I got one and proceeded to read the New Testament.
But by the time I was in high school and going to confirmation classes at a Lutheran church in New Hampshire, I began to have questions. I was part of a youth group that sometimes made me feel bad because our family didn’t attend church as often. When I went on outings with them, I would be the kid offering to help clean up while the faithful attendees did their own thing, yet they got preferential treatment. I felt like I couldn’t measure up and was being judged accordingly.
It made perfect sense to equate this sense of rejection to God. So I quit believing. That didn’t mean I didn’t go to church anymore, but in my heart, I became guarded. That would last for about ten years.
Has that ever happened to you?
Which brings me to the bible verse I loosely paraphrased on Monday. It comes from Matthew 23, verse 4: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s (and women’s) shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
That picture- of heavy loads on the backs of people- contrasts sharply with Christ’s message, the image of him as shepherd. But people are people. We want things our way, based on our perceptions and interpretations, even when we meet people who are obviously stooped over. And if we offer help, it comes with our set of conditions.
The same set of conditions we hold inside that are constantly causing us to bend over, feel weighted down.
As the shepherd of a large flock of children, I sometimes tried that approach. Don’t misunderstand me, there have to be rules and boundaries, or a child feels insecure. But as a human it can quickly go to that place of control and manipulation which results in very little allegiance and cooperation. In fact, at a certain age kids are quick to remind you of your own obvious hypocrisy. I’ve had those reminders many times… and boy, did I need them!
True religion is grounded in love- a love that lifts and encourages, embraces and nurtures.
A love exemplified by a simple picture of a shepherd, as it continues to guide me.
What guides you?
Next week I am going to begin introducing you to a series of people whose stories have created openings. Hope you will join me.
Thank you to my readers for your comments. Your thoughts and ideas mean so much to me. I learn from you! I want to emphasize… ALL ideas and opinions are welcome here!