Last Sunday, we had a special guest at our small country church: One of the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.
“Oh, that’s right, the Bishop’s visiting today,” I said as the children and I entered the church.
Son wasn’t quite clear what this meant but insisted we sit in the front row. The Bishop processed in all decked out in a grand purple robe and miter (that’s the funky hat with a point at the top and two tails down the back). He was also carrying a tall, wooden shepherd’s staff.
Shortly after the opening prayer, the Bishop asked all the children in the congregation to come to the front of the church before they left for Sunday School. Son and Daughter, curiously wide-eyed with awe and wonder at this Very Important Person in his decorative getup, willingly went and sat along the front step with a dozen or so other kids.
The Bishop introduced himself.
“Hi, my name is Andrew.”
(Son’s eyes lit up. See Imaginary Friend.)
“Does anyone know what this is?” He held up his staff and an arm shot up from the bunch.
The child guessed correctly and the Bishop then asked if anyone knew who used them and why. Next, he described how shepherds use their staffs to guide the sheep.
First, he pointed out the curved hook at one end.
“Sometimes, a sheep wanders off from the flock and the shepherd uses the hook to untangle him and help him get righted and back with his flock.”
Second, he turned the staff the other way and pointed to the long straight end.
“At other times, the sheep may be grazing and not moving along where they need to go. Then, the shepherd nudges them a little bit, to help them get moving.”
At this, he gently pushed the staff out and made a little nudge sound.
Third, he grasped both hands on either end of the staff and held it in front of him.
“And, finally, the shepherd would sometimes need to use his staff as a weapon. There might be animals that wanted to take a sheep so the shepherd might need to fight off wolves or lions.”
The children listened intently.
He continued. “And Jesus is like that with us. That’s how He takes care of us – by helping us out when we get stuck, by nudging us when we need to get moving, and by fighting off evil that threatens us.”
I liked how simply the Bishop told this story to the children. It was short, sweet and clear. There wasn’t a peep from his audience and when he finished they all ran off for crafts and snacks and Christmas pageant rehearsal.
And since Sunday, I’ve pondered the story as a Mom. The analogy of the shepherd and God resonated with me. But I can also easily tie it to motherhood.
Especially as my children get older, my challenge is to help untangle them from the psychological fences that spring up as they struggle to separate from me and negotiate life with their peers. They have neither the sophistication nor insight to understand why frustration, anger and fear mount in their little hearts and heads. My first instinct may be to scold, demand or get sucked into their fray. But if I can take a step back and think clearly, I remember my job is to be a gentle guide to help them free themselves or wait it out.
Nudging gently is hard. It takes forethought and discipline. Where do my children need to be moving to stay on the right path? What practices do we, as a family, need to put in place to guide them?
This might mean saying grace before dinner and attending church to balance the crazy culture of our world with moral rightness. Or maybe I need to spend more time helping Son learn sight words or sitting down to draw with Daughter. On the other hand, maybe I need to see clearly that frequent tantrums or whining means they’re on an overscheduled path and we need to scale back. Perhaps they need a nudge to slow down, play imaginatively, learn to be by and of themselves.
While my children are young, the types of evil I need to fend off are relatively simple. They are blessedly protected by a good roof, good meals, and good general company. Not all kids are as fortunate. I can imagine there are mothers who need to ward off evil from their children every day. Each effort requires commitment. Today, we pull Son aside when he murmurs that a waitress is “fat.” Soon, we’ll be protecting him from the dangers lurking in a digital society.
As I ponder the Bishop’s lesson, it’s helpful to remember that while I may not carry a staff, I need to carry with me a keen wit to help disentangle them when they’re stuck, the discipline to nudge them when it’s needed, and a constant commitment to teach them right from wrong in themselves and protect them from harm in the world.
Shepherds guide sheep. Moms guide kids. God guides us all.
I hope you have wonderful holidays and enjoy many (little) blessings in the New Year!