by LAURA LAMBERT
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” — Matthew 18:12
Struggling with Sheeping
In Sunday school, I remember hearing the story of Jesus being the shepherd. About how he searches for the one sheep who goes astray, even as 99 remain within the fold. As I heard this story, I remember visualizing who I believed that “one” might be.
Maybe it was a friend who stopped coming to church. Or someone hanging out with the wrong crowd, or a gossip who said something about me. As I got older, it was that girl who always had her string of boyfriends, or the guy not trying hard enough in his marriage.
But I’m beginning to realize, I’m the one, too. And not just sometimes, like when I am in a particularly deep valley–no. It’s always me. And I think the same is true of all of us. We all struggle, we’re all imperfect. The fact is, none of us is great at this “Sheeping” thing.
The truth is, we are adopted children of God. He welcomed us with open arms, but it’s just not in our nature to naturally “sheep” (I think I made up a new verb). We tend to wander.
Sheep with grit
I used to listen to this parable of the 99 and think of Jesus dragging that sheep back by its ear, then tossing it back in the fold, yelling, “Now, STAY!”
Now, I’m finding a new perspective. While we’re not great at sheeping, perhaps God likes us being a bit wild, tenacious and rascally. After all, He did make us this way. Our wild spirit shows we have grit, and the ability to fight for those we love, and run after those passions God places in our hearts when it makes no sense. Maybe the very thing which causes us to be weak also makes us strong.
Yes, sometimes we wander and stray. But when we do, Jesus doesn’t drag us back by the ear in anger. Instead, perhaps he searches for us with both desperation and determination. And after finding us, instead of berating us, he sits down next to us and asks, “What did you find? What did you learn?”
Then, when we head back to the fold together, I envision him saying, “Tell the other sheep what you learned. Tell them your story.”
Through the wandering times, God isn’t surprised. He knows how He made us and knows who we are. He doesn’t panic when we wander. When we stray, I think we view God as fretting with worry, or marking a red “x” next to our name. But God provided a shepherd because He knew we needed him. So, why do we believe He would punish us when we end up needing that shepherd?
Our wandering inevitably causes problems from time to time, sure. But it also gives us invaluable stories to share. These stories can change lives, including our own.
Looking back, some of my worst mistakes gave me stories to inspire and encourage others who wandered. Some of my deepest valleys gave me strength and courage to share with those around me.
When we may at times wander and get hurt, or wander and make poor choices, from these wanderings we learn, we grow, and hopefully, we have a story to tell. A story the sheep back home must hear.
A seat at the table
God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew what He was doing when He made us a little wild, a little tenacious. And though God knew we might slip away at times, He adopted us anyway. Our weakness is our strength, allowing us to inspire faith in each other. So, He gives each of us a seat at His Table, not because we earn it but rather because He says we belong.
Even when our wild hearts wander, He awaits our return, keeping our seat open at The Table.
Knowing I’m the one changed my perspective, allowing me to give myself a bit more grace when I wander from The Table and try to do things my way.
But even more, this new perspective changed how I look at those around me. No longer do I see myself as part of the “Perfect 99”, wagging my finger and whispering with the rest of the flock about the one who strayed.
Instead of waving my hand in dismissal at the wanderer, I can use my hand to dust off the seat next to me at the The Table. Because when the one returns, this one must be welcomed with open arms. I deserve my seat at the table no more than they.
Today then, let’s look at the one sheep differently. Let’s find growth in our wanderings, realizing it is often these stories that change lives, including our own.
And, let’s always save a seat at The Table for the wandering friend, knowing we are the one who needs a seat, too.
And who knows? Our friend might slip in next to us and tell us a fascinating story of hope, and of being found by a Good Shepherd who believed in them enough to guide them back to The Table. Let’s remember, the person who left their seat vacant for what we deem “far too long” has the power to change our lives too.
Let’s stand and be real enough to say, we are all the one sheep. We are all a bit wild, but we all have grit. Most of all, we all have a story of wandering and of struggling at sheeping.
Let’s use our story to change lives each and every day, taking ownership of our imperfections as we take our seats at the table.
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