I asked Nancy for a word. “Shepherd”, she said. I went looking and found the time a couple years ago when her word was “sheep”. So I used that one.
I’m reading a book about grief. In the introduction, Melissa Kelley talks about a woman who has had a difficult life and is now a few months past the death of her husband. Kelley writes: “Millie says the closest she has ever come to naming her experience of God is the Bible story about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that has wandered off. She is the one that has wandered off, but in her experience, the shepherd has never come to find her.”
I’ve talked about that story many times in my life (even here). But I never stopped to think about how the lost sheep felt before the shepherd arrived. Alone, adrift, ignored, in pain. No matter whose fault the wandering may have been — willful running away, inattentive drifting away, intentional driving away — the result was the same. The one sheep was away from the flock and unrescued by the shepherd.
Until the sheep was rescued.
But it took time. It was getting dark.
I sometimes forget how abandoned people can feel by the institution I’m part of or the God I’m called by. But I often remember, or am reminded. Whether by readings like this, or conversations with people in deep grief who are trying to understand why they feel like they are facing this pain alone.
So I sit with them. And I listen. And I talk, a little. And I try to help people feel a little bit found, a little bit trusted, a little bit loved.
As Jesus tells the story, the shepherd felt delighted in loving the sheep. The shepherd was looking passionately. But sheep who have wandered often can’t believe that anyone wants to find them.
The invitation for those of us who are partners with the shepherd is to be looking constantly and compassionately, at the edges and over the cliffs. Because some sheep are pretty sure no one cares.
Least of all God.
Thanks to Nancy for today’s word. Sheep