Ezekiel 34:3-5 Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way...(MSG)
Driving home from my REJOICE! exercise and fitness class this morning, I drove out of the neighborhood and onto the frontage road to head home for some more water and the last bowl of leftover beef stew.
None of my kids are here today. It is just my husband and I. It is unusually quiet here.
Just a few days ago there was the jingle of Tinkerbell's tags, chatter, laughter, little feet running up and down the stairs, and catching up with my oldest daughter's family who sought shelter in our home for a few days due to a broken water main in their neighborhood.
For the past 39 years I have geared my life to look after my little flock. When there was plenty we all enjoyed all we wanted, and when I went back to college things were lean and there weren't so many choices, yet healthy food kept us satisfied.
I have to look back and reflect with a thankful heart that even as a pastor's wife going through a heart wrenching divorce that totally changed the lives of my children and certainly changed my ability to attend the Bible studies, book shares, or to be looked to as a role model for spiritual guidance as I was used to, God was there providing through others around me. I smarted inwardly from the choices that others made that could upset and turn my life upside down.
There were times when I wondered if I was some sort of puppet on a string for others to jerk around and wondered if people understood how much impact their actions had on me and my children through the years.
Fat sheep? What's up? When we are in a place of power or authority we have to keep in mind the lives that are all around us. Words, actions, body language, or a lack of affirming words, a lack of good and honest action, a lack of communicating the individual uniqueness and worth of those nearest to us. Some family we choose and some we do not. The trick is to cherish each and every one and to demonstrate their value so that they can feel significant beyond a doubt.
It is the same in the workplace. There are superiors, peers, and those under our supervision that are easy to work with as well as those who are like a burr under a saddle. We glide in and out of each others consciousness, but with an impact by either ignoring the opportunities to feed the hungering souls who desire to be filled with a sense of accomplishment and meaning for all of their labors and assistance on the job or to look one another in the eyes with a nod that says it all. Written notice of a job well done can lift the spirits of those struggling to find purpose in their very existence. Granted there are a few who calmly surf through in peace and perfectly content no matter how much chaos goes on around them, but face it...we all need to hear that we matter, and for the good.
It is not up to us to put people in their place. It is up to us to give them space and an audience to listen to aspirations. Time to see them as more than someone to deliver us a products or to add a convenience to our life. They may need to draw boundaries when they are stressed or do not agree. Rather than crushing and crossing over to cause damage, why not just take a breath and stop to look a little closer. Stop and observe. Open your heart. Listen. Really listen.
Then as I help to mow half of the yard in this blistering heat, I look out over my neighborhood. No, I did not choose any of these people, but they are in my life. I can open myself and get to know more about their world or I can close the door and blinds and stay to myself.
Fat sheep. Fat cats. We think we have it all together and we don't need to bother to change our lives one bit. Life is so much neater and predictable when we stay in control. Keep it simple, right? My family and no more. Whew! What do you mean I need to care about my neighbor. I have enough on my own plate.
Skinny sheep? Well, those could be the ones who are in need, they could be the ones who have their hand continually out and the line never ends, right? There are agencies for them. There are paid staff who will "befriend" them. They will take them and hand them forms to fill, give them the regulations, and then if they are lucky they will be one of the recipients of the rubber-stamped issue that comes across as a slap in the face and also stamps their hearts with INVALID, UNNECESSARY, or CAST OFF.
Circumstances come to skinny sheep that they never asked for as well as many that they cultivated with their choices. So, because a sheep is skinny, does that make it no longer of any value, to be culled from the flock and forgotten. Is there a place for these undernourished, damaged ones to go for comfort, love, and affirmation so that when the circumstances change they can return the favor and hand off to another in need?
Fat or skinny? I keep going back and forth in my mind about all of this. If I go to work in missions these lost are the very valuable ones that we work so hard to secure and build back up. Yet when I stand looking down the cul-de-sac I see the homes of many who have moved in that I have not gone to greet. I do not know their children's names. I do not know when a husband is out of the country for months on end on duty. New babies on both sides of me, but we are having hard times now. Making an effort to go see their precious bundle would add joy regardless of whether I can afford a gift. The gift of interest and admiration is the one that they really want after all.
I am feeling like a fat sheep when I see how simple acts of caring, interest, and kindness could make a difference with so many I know. A phone call, a note card, a pat on the back, a hug and certainly waving and smiles would span the gap. Baking some cookies for the new large family that has many needs across the street from me. I pray for them, but they need so much more.
Or maybe I am the skinny sheep. Maybe I have such a small heart and soul that I do not even care enough too get up and ask you oh God what is it that I can be and do for you? What can I spend my time doing that will really make a difference in someone's life? Isn't that the true meaning of life? Relationships, connecting, and giving until we are filled up and dead tired. We get fat from the fuzzy feelings we receive. Real joy is waiting to break into our lives every day. Instead I find that many of us just hold it at arms length. Wait until I have time, next summer, next weekend, or tomorrow.
Live life now.
Fat sheep! Lose that fluffy self-absorption! Lose that callousness. Lose that mindset that only yours are important and open up your eyes to the lives God has put into your life. Treat them all with care and the tenderness that they deserve. Share your attention, your gracious words, your culinary efforts, your home, and serve one another.
Skinny sheep! The same goes for you! Do what you can to make life easier for those around you. Give a kind answer, be patient, lend a hand, be thankful for what you have and always be grateful for help, but don't feel anything is owed to you. Work hard and better times will come around. You will forget your own misery when you are concentrating on someone else and giving them a temporary respite.
Bottom line. God wants to enlarge our hearts. It is for our good. He is preparing us for Heaven. I want to ready and I want to make sure you are ready as well.