Have I mentioned before that I’m one of seven kids? If I haven’t, now you know. Though we’re tight-knit and fiercely loyal to one another, each person in our family (my parents included) has extremely independent tendencies.
For me, since I had a baby sister born when I was 19 months old, I always viewed myself as a “big kid.” I tried to take care of myself, and her, and the 3 other babies that came after her. I tried hard to be good, to behave and take care of my chores since mom and dad always had a lot on their plate.
This mentality continued throughout my childhood. I got good grades, stayed out of trouble, and hung out with good friends. I went to church regularly, I prayed, I went to youth conferences and retreats. I was in leadership positions in school clubs, societies and sports. I got scholarships to help with tuition. I was a good kid, and I viewed myself as good kid.
I really thought I could handle anything– and not even in an intentionally prideful way. I just felt like I had worked hard, been good, and followed all God’s commandments. I was doing it out of love. I didn’t want to be a burden to my parents, I didn’t want to be a burden to God either. I knew I could call on him when I needed him… but in my mind, my life was all together. I didn’t need him.
I remember thinking of him as some distant being up in the sky who would come to my aid whenever I asked… and I remember thinking,
“Don’t worry about me God; I got this.”
As life would have it, I was very wrong.
Towards the end of my senior year of high school and into my freshman year of college, I learned a very painful lesson. I didn’t “have this” like I thought I did. I didn’t have my life together. It started with a bad decision to trust someone that I didn’t know as well as I thought I did. We were both young and immature in different ways. He became verbally and emotionally abusive, and I was too naive to know how to handle it. I didn’t even realize what was going on until months after the relationship was over.
I was left a ghost of my former self. I lacked all self-confidence and did not trust myself to make any decisions– even small decisions. I couldn’t handle the stress of my life by myself anymore and ironically, I was no longer surrounded by family and friends who could help since I was off at college. For the first time in my life, I was actually physically independent, but I needed those people I had always relied on.
At school, I had no one to rely on… no one I knew well enough at that point to trust…
So I turned to the one person I did know– that big man in the sky. I needed him. I ended up spending a lot of time in the chapel that first semester, mostly because it was the only place I felt safe enough to sit and cry. God used my time there to benefit the both of us.
Slowly, I began to realize that he was not just a big man in the sky to call upon when I needed help. He’s a constant companion, someone who wants a personal relationship with me. He wants to talk with me, walk with me, be with me even when everything is going “perfectly” in my life.
I’m stating this quickly, but it was the realization of thousands of hours spent soaking in grace (in personal prayer, in receiving the sacraments, in reading more and more about Him and the saints). I was truly smothered by him, in the best of ways. And as the years passed, he healed me completely.
The Good Shepherd
At one point during this time, I learned something new about the Good Shepherd. It may have come from a prayer card, or possibly a homily of a priest. Ultimately, it came from the Holy Spirit, because he knew it was exactly what I needed to hear at that point in my life.
This new message was about the typical image of the Good Shepherd. Often he’s depicted carrying a lamb across his shoulders. Up until that point in my life, I had always thought it was sort of a fatherly thing to do. I just assumed he was carrying the lamb due to feelings of fondness. What I didn’t know was that the Good Shepherd was carrying the lamb because the lamb’s leg was broken, and the lamb’s leg was broken because it was the Shepherd who snapped it in half.
It turns out that this technique was used often by the shepherds of old. Since sheep are dumb and distracted rather easily, young lambs tend to wander often and get lost. If a shepherd has a lamb that wanders easily and innocently time and time again, continuing to put herself in harm’s way, the shepherd breaks her leg. It’s done quickly, smoothly, and splinted immediately.
Until her leg heals, the shepherd carries the lamb everywhere. Whether he’s speaking to her or speaking to others, she begins to form an attachment to the sound of his voice. The shepherd also ensures that she is given the best food and water to consume, and sleeps close by her bed since she’d be unable to flee if a wolf approached during the night.
By the time the lamb’s leg has healed, she is fiercely attached to the shepherd. She never wanders far from him again, because she knows that best food, shelter and protection are within his vicinity. She is loyal to him.
The Lamb = Me (and You)
When I heard this story, the parallel to my own life was obvious. Like the lamb, I had been wandering… not towards anything bad per se, but definitely away from God. Just like the lamb, I didn’t think I needed him all the time.
So he broke my leg– and it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Now I know that the best of everything in life can only be found when I stay close to my Good Shepherd. I rely on him for everything — whether spiritual or physical in nature. And when I begin to stray (as I often do), he calls me by name. And I respond, because I love the sound of his voice.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” John 10:27
My Restored Soul
While independence can be good, the way I was living it out was not. Now, I have no desire for independence. Truly.
Even when I am dealing with difficult situations, I know I have nothing to fear because My Shepherd is ultimately the one who will give me the grace to make it through the darkness… all the way to the feast– whether that be a “feast” in this life or the next. He always upholds me.
I truly want for nothing…
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever. ~Psalm 23