Sheep, man. They’re a mess. They’re masters at doing exactly what you DON’T want them to do. They don’t listen well, and they think they know what is best for themselves. My family started raising these lovely little animals on our farm a couple of years ago, and owning sheep has absolutely changed every bit of my relationship with Jesus.
They have shown me the depths of my own restlessness and brokenness. Hold on, I thought sheep were supposed to be fun, and now they’re showing me how much of a mess I am? Yes, yes they are. These four-legged creatures have taught me much about myself.
Back in May, my dad and I built a pen for our flock of sheep with electric fence netting that could be moved as needed. We had a place for them to graze, and we planned on moving the netting about once a week so that they would always have fresh grass to graze. We provided shelter, grass, water, and TONS of space for them to spread out. They had everything they needed, and they should have been content. Emphasis on the should. After we finished building the pen and got the sheep moved into it, we thought all would be well. Instead, we found the fence knocked down and sheep running free within just a few hours. They went from having everything needed to having absolutely no protection at all. Truly, they had more freedom within the walls of the fence because the fence was built with the sole intent of keeping them protected. When they got out they could roam further away, but there was no way for us to keep them safe.
Speaking of boundaries, prior to my conversion all I saw in the Catholic Church was a list of rules. Do this, don’t do that, pray this prayer now, pray that prayer later, worship like this, don’t do that with your body, and on and on and on. I couldn’t see how anyone could have a genuine relationship with Jesus amidst all of these boundaries. The Bible teaches that there is freedom in Christ, so shouldn’t we be free?
I’ve recently struck up a friendship with St. Catherine of Siena. Her deepest desire was for every person to know of the deep freedom found within the blood of Christ. Her perception of freedom is not the absence of boundaries, though. She preaches that in Christ we have the freedom to choose what is good, the freedom to love with our whole hearts, and the freedom to know God and be known deeply by Him.
Like the sheep on our farm in the boundaries of the pen, the boundaries laid out for us by the Catholic Church are not there to make us miserable or take away our freedom. They are there so that we may remain free to be fully alive and fully who we were created to be in every moment.
Now let’s go back to the sheep. We had them where we did for a reason. We put the pen in a specific place for a reason. They wanted what they couldn’t have, so they found a way to get it. You see, in all reality the grass was the exact same on both sides of the fence, but it looked greener on the other side of the fence simply because it was just out of reach. They couldn’t see the whole picture of what my dad and I were trying to do by rotating the grass they had access to, so they tried to figure things out on their own.
Wow. It’s no wonder, then, why Jesus compares us to sheep so often.
How frequently can the same be said of me? My sweet King has me where He does for a reason, yet too often all I see is the grass on the other side of the fence. I see the so-called “freedom” that is offered outside of the bounds of Him, and I am tempted to leave the bounty of His provision. However, there is nothing I need that He has not given me.
Oh my… good thing Jesus is a much more patient shepherd than I am. He is the Good Shepherd, and He desires to care for us. He delights in His sheep, and He delights in knowing we are taken care of.
Even when we DO choose to wander outside the bounds of His provision, He brings us home time and time again, and He does so with such patience and grace. I’ll admit, when the sheep on the farm get out over and over again, I get frustrated. I HATE having to put them back in. Jesus doesn’t do that with us. He doesn’t neglect us, and He doesn’t leave us abandoned to fend for ourselves. He searches us out and brings us back into Himself hoping that maybe, just maybe, we will choose to stay and rest.
It’s actually insane. Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to rescue the one, and He does so without any guarantee that the one will follow Him back to the rest of the flock. He’s willing to go looking because that’s how deep and intense His desire for our hearts is.
We were created to live as part of a flock. However, we were not just created for any old flock. We were created to live in His one true flock in full communion with our Good Shepherd. What a joy it is to know He sees us in our mess, and still calls us His own! Truly, we can not run so far away that He will not go find us and lead us back home to His flock.
Allison Dale is a sophomore at Kansas State University, and she’s still trying to figure out what exactly she wants to study. She converted to the Church in September, and she finds joy in hammocking, long walks, little flowers, and pretty words. Her greatest joy, however, is being "big C" Catholic. You can find more of her words here.