I watch the little girl infront of me at church as she runs circles around her mom, curly hair bouncing on top her head. She searches her mother’s pockets for snacks, toys, amusement. From one side, to another. Back and forth she goes. Coming up empty handed she deserts this game in search of another. Her feet dash up the steps at the side of the room, she twirls, and jumps down. Up the steps, and back down again. Up and down, up, and down.
All of this goes on in the middle of a church service.
I could judge, but no. I’m too struck by something I notice. Something strangely similar to myself. The sense that as I watch this little pink flurry of energy I am gazing directly into my heart. On the outside I appear cool, calm, collected. I’ve got my high heels on, my nice knit sweater and designer jeans, I’ve got myself together if you know what I mean. I’ve put on my mature, adult face, full of pondering and contemplation, and set my gaze intently on our pastor as he preaches. Yet the inside is where my restlessness lies.
I leap from one obsession to another, jumping from whim to whim, easily bored, easily distracted. I search for any sign of attention, approval, praise from others. Foolishly thinking these are the things that will sustain me. I dedicate myself to a particular path but when my motivation gets weak, the going gets tough, I give up. I doubt my ability, or His goodness, and flee. My desires are fleeting, grounded in nothing more than that moment’s craving, that moment’s mood. Like a child I am attracted to anything that shimmers with intrigue, promises excitement.
It’s no wonder Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. Not because he believed us to be stupid creatures, but he recognized our desperate need for help. That if we were to live the life of faith he invites us into, and live it with any manner of integrity whatsoever, He would need to be there with us, guiding us. Always.
Because He knew the state of our hearts before we understood it ourselves. He knew that I would be prone to fear, greed, distrust. Controlled so often by impulsivity and selfishness. He knew I would gravitate to where others were flocking, easily swayed, often wandering, deserting one belief for another based solely on its popularity.
He knew that I would proudly claim to follow Him one day, but would be denying him the next.
My toddler despises having his face washed. Yet there couldn’t be a messier eater on this planet. Even though he has learned, and very quickly I might add, how to properly use a fork to scoop food from his bowl to his mouth, he will abandon this orderly way of eating after a few minutes and instead resort to grabbings fistfuls of spaghetti and shovelling these into his mouth. He does all of this as fast as he can because for some reason unbeknownst to me, he thinks this may be the last supper. So after each meal, I must take a cloth to his face and scrub like my life depends on it. He screams, pushes me away, turns his head at just the right angle so it is impossible for me to reach the crevices between his chin and his neck, where most of the scum hides. He fights the cleaning like his life depends on it.
I’m beginning to see that his reaction is much like my own, when it comes to my sin. I cling to my pride, my envy, my anger. Even though I know God wants to free me, to help me move beyond this way of living, I hold tight. Why? I’m stubborn and selfish, mostly. Perhaps I think these are the things that make me strong, or keep me safe. Without them I’m vulnerable, I feel small and frail.
But I would really like to make more room in my heart for the One who calls himself my Good Shepherd. As I learn more about who this person is, I am given the grace to understand why His way is better. I see a person I so desperately want to be like – He is Life, He is Light, He is Love (1 John 1:2,5; 1 John 4:8) – and at the same time I see all the filth in me, all the things I need to let go.
My brother phoned me up one Saturday recently. He was heading into the city with his 3 kids and asked if they could drop by our place for a visit. Come on over, I said without hesitating. He’ll be there in about 30 minutes.
After we hung up, I closed the laptop I had been working on, completely absorbed in editing. It could wait until later. My ponytail was a greasy mess from my morning run. I hadn’t even changed out of my sweaty running gear. I looked down at the living room carpet to see half of a brown banana stuck to the fabric, the other half smushed into the couch I was sitting on. Toys covered every corner of the living room, kitchen, hallway, and bedrooms. The preschooler was watching a show. How many now? I’d lost count. He was still in his pajamas. Where was the toddler?
But come on over.
My heart, like my house, is in a continual state of mess. I’m joyful one minute ungrateful the next. Humble in one moment, proud and judgmental in another.
But the words I said to my brother on this particular Saturday echo in my heart. Good Shepherd? Come on over. Make your home here. Somewhere in this mess of a heart there is love, there is joy, there is grace, but all are imperfect. The good things that live in me fail me so often. The ugly parts win more than I’d like, gaining control of my mind and my actions. I need someone who is stronger than me, who will bring anchorage to this roving soul. Someone who knows without a doubt which path is best for me, who will gently guide me onward. Who will search for me when I have wandered, which I inevitably will do. Whose goodness will surround me, on all sides, reminding me of what is true. Because I so often forget, so often worry, and so often doubt.
Accepting love has not been an easy thing for me. When it is offered to me I doubt its validity. I have come to learn that the root of much of my distrust, my fear of being rejected or abandoned, stems from my own insecurity. My belief that I am not worthy of the love that is freely available to me. Thankfully, with much help from close friends and a professional, I have learned to tackle the aspects of my personality that hinder me the most. The more I have learned to love and accept myself, exactly as I am, the better I am able to love those around me, exactly as they are. And the more I nurture this unconditional love for myself and in my relationships, the more open I am to receiving the ultimate Love.
I am a sucker for romance, and invest myself wholeheartedly in the relationships I follow on TV and in movies. One scene I saw recently struck me, in its simple dialogue yet beautiful message of fear, love, and acceptance. It was a scene in the TV show This is Us between the characters Kate and Toby. Their conversation went like this:
Kate: Listen, this is scary, this is all just scary, honestly. But I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Toby, if you’ll have me.
Toby: I would totally marry you if that’s something you’re down with.
Kate: You would? Just like that?
Toby: Just like that? It was just like that from the moment I met you, kid.
When I push past my fear, and express my desire to connect with God, I think his response is much the same as Toby’s. Totally, he says. Just like that? (I am doubting, again, always scared of rejection, always worried that I am unworthy, that I am not enough). Just like that, he patiently reaffirms.
The mess of me doesn’t scare the Good Shepherd away, for he makes all things new. This is the relationship he has signed up for from the get-go. Where I lack in trust he pours out love. Where I lack in commitment he puts down roots. Where I lack in self-discipline he abounds in grace. He knows what he’s getting himself into, and has known this from the very beginning. And still he asks – will you draw close to me?
And if I want to follow Jesus, then I need to keep handing all of me over to him. Again and again and again. Once is not enough, because, if I haven’t made myself clear yet, I am the sheep who always gets lost. I’m so very weak and continuously try to go it alone, always thinking I’m good on my own. But always falling short.
Jesus said he wants to give me the fullest life possible. What more could a girl want in a proposal before screaming “Yes!!”