Parents are meant to shepherd their children toward truth and safety, as well as in learning skills, in order to prepare them for the purposes of their lives. But not all shepherds are the same.
Two sisters were given some sheep to care for, and a promise that the sheep would be of great value if tended properly.
The younger sister wanted her sheep to bring her wealth and praise quickly, so she promptly put them out to pasture to fatten the sheep up. The tending was easy at first. She gave them a grassy place to eat and left them alone. Since the sheep were busy, she could do the things she wanted to do. She felt she was getting more done by keeping her sheep occupied with their grassy hill, while she spent time with friends, received spa treatments, and built her wool business. She created a website and established wool buying contacts so that she was ready when her sheep produced wool. When this younger sister was busy with her lists of things to do, she had a substitute stand guard over her sheep.
The older sister first studied her sheep, noticing their markings, their eyes, their voices, their likes and dislikes, their vulnerabilities, and their abilities. She got to know her sheep and they got to know her. Sheep and shepherd each had a sense of the purpose of the other, and they found joy and value in living their roles.
She gave them the best grassy hill to graze on and stayed with them throughout the day and night. She trained them by teaching them how to follow the sound of her voice and to trust the love in her eyes. They came whenever she called them. If she told them to move to the left or the right, to stop or to go, they readily obeyed.
The older sister’s sheep were more content than the younger sister’s sheep. They willingly followed the commands of their master shepherd and trusted in her guidance. But the younger sister’s sheep seemed frightened, anxious, and alone — even though they had someone on the hill with them. They didn’t trust the substitute or know her calls or commands. These sheep often wandered far away from the safety of the herd. Over time, some sheep went missing. The substitute shepherd often became aggressive toward the sheep to get them to do the tasks she wanted them to do.
Near the mountains where the two sisters cared for their sheep lived a wolf. He occasionally captured and ate the lonely sheep that sometimes wandered off from the younger sister’s herd. But soon he became tired of waiting for stray sheep. So, he approached the herd of the older sister for a quick meal. As soon as the older sister saw the wolf’s nose pop over the hill in the distance, she told her sheep to come to her. They all rapidly ran to her and the wolf was unable to steal a sheep from the fold.
After a few fruitless attempts at taking sheep, the wolf became aggressive and started to attack a smaller sheep at the back of the herd. The older sister saw this and quickly jumped in front of the wolf to defend this smaller sheep. Without thinking of herself, she fought the wolf off. This happened multiple times, and she was always successful in defending her sheep.
After the wolf couldn’t take any of the good shepherd’s sheep, he went to the younger sister’s fold. The younger sister had employed her substitute to tend the sheep that day. The substitute didn’t see the wolf at first because she was checking her social media. When she eventually noticed the wolf close to the sheep, she yelled to the sheep to run away. They didn’t listen. She hysterically ran at the sheep, scaring them and scattering them. Soon the substitute found herself in the middle of a lonely field with a hungry wolf chasing after her lambs in the distance. She ran for help. While she was away the wolf enjoyed multiple sheep for his dinner.
The Value of Sheep
Both sisters in this parable were told their sheep would have great value. Both sisters took action because of this value. The younger sister prepared to show her valuable sheep to wool buyers and paid for a substitute to guard them to maximize her time. The older sister got to know her sheep. She took extra time to train them and give them instructions. She willingly and joyfully stayed with them and put herself in harm’s way for them. The older sister gave her whole life for the sheep because they were so valuable.
There is often a battle in the hearts and minds of parents between what the parent enjoys or wants and who parents are meant to be to their children. Parents with careers and stay-at-home parents all fight this battle within themselves because so many things are vying for their attention and time. Society tells parents that social glory is essential for happiness and worth. What type of shepherd are you? Has your identity as the parent or your desire for fame and fun won the battle inside you recently?
When we keep our perspective of the value of children clear, then we can more easily will ourselves to be a good shepherd — just like the older sister. Children are valuable because they are children. They are in a process of becoming adults. That is a valuable, once-in-a-lifetime process. Shepherding-minded parents feel fulfilled when they’re shepherding their child because parents and child both meet their full potentials in their current roles. This process creates a tone of gratitude from children and parents for their roles and their family members.
Additionally, when we see the value of children clearly, we recognize that the bonding and relationship that happens within the parent/child relationship has the greatest value. The younger sister, who was preparing her sheep/children for the marketplace, was more concerned about her and her sheep being valued by other people. This focus unknowingly put her on a path to value the way she and her sheep were seen by the world more than what really mattered: her relationships and bonding with, as well as understanding the purpose of, each of her sheep/children.
The way we see ourselves as shepherds and our children as our sheep will determine how safe and prepared we all really are when dangers threaten our happiness and family bonds. As I ponder on baby lambs this spring season, it occurs to me the power and purpose of a shepherd cannot be taken lightly. When we do our shepherding with a willing heart, the hearts of our little lambs are turned toward us.
Listen to the audio class Training the Heart to better understand the heart of your child