Then Feed My Sheep
The Your stories blogs are a place where women can bravely and authentically tell their story as it really is. We invite women to collide with Jesus and share how He is meeting them, transforming them and redeeming them. We hope this “your story” meets you in yours…
My journey from California to Washington state started with this quote about feeding sheep, and it’s still moving me today. Jesus said it, but I read it in a book by Jen Hatmaker prompting me to question my way of life—to jettison the excess and simply to focus on feeding people that are hungry. Reading Hatmaker’s book, Seven: A Mutiny Against Excess, invited me to question my own assumptions, like the fact that my husband and I each had found our lifelong career and would continue in our respective jobs until the day we retired and traveled the world and spent all our savings. I had taught high school for seven years and was finally feeling effective in my role as (mostly) motivational speaker and (partly) Latin teacher. And yet, coming out from under the rock of postpartum depression I was looking for meaning beyond worldly security, and I found that longed-for meaning in this basic request of Jesus— in the exhortation to feed His sheep—to give of myself and pursue God wherever He should lead me.
From the first time I really understood that directive in relation to what it means to love Jesus, I felt a continual nudging of the Spirit to simplify my life. I feared this process of simplifying would mean quitting my job, which would mean having to move from the house we owned on two incomes. For several months I squelched this nudging, chalking it up to the odd bad day at work (everyone wants to quit their job sometimes, right?!), until I could no longer ignore my Principal giving me an ultimatum to go up to full time or quit my job. Looking down the barrel of depression that was sure to come for me if I were to heap even more hours of work on my already full plate, I begged with my Principal (and God) to let me keep my job and keep my house and keep my life just as it was.
After a few tense weeks and a lot of prayers I realized that God was desperately trying to give me a gift—an out—a chance to step off the hamster wheel and live a simpler life. What followed was a mountaintop experience—an outpouring of the Spirit during which God opened big doors and gave us big signs to lead us on a journey to move 1,200 miles away. As I left my job, my husband found a new one and our house sold, all in less than a week. There were a ton of other signs and ways God provided, all of which guided us up here to start a new life.
And then we got here, and the new life started. It’s hard to know when the mountaintop experience is over when you’re in the midst of it. When you’re past it, it’s usually pretty obvious; it’s the time when God says, “Okay, you’ve gotten your fill. I know it’s awesome up here, but now it’s time to go out and do your thing. You know, that thing I’ve created you to do.” Okay, so God may or may not have said that in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard those words just after realizing I’m at the bottom of the mountain and have a long journey ahead of me. Riding the wave of the Spirit up to Washington, I was on fire inside; I was eagerly looking around for what my new role was to be and where I was to serve. I was getting out my trekking poles to get ready for another climb up the mountain.
While I was waiting for my next climb, I knew my call was to feed God’s sheep, so I was looking out for the big ways I could feed those sheep. I was looking for some kind of ministry I could start that would feed the masses, so imagine my surprise when my new role—my call to feed sheep—turns out to be filled with the monotony of life with two kids. I’m talking about laundry, cooking, cleaning, playing little kid games that are usually less than appealing to an overtired mom, breaking up fights, trying not to yell, mandating chores, managing meltdowns (including my own), maintaining sanity, etc. with very little time left for anything else. I started to panic, knowing that giving was key to finding joy, to combating depression, and yet, I felt I had no time or energy to give after enduring the daily grind.
Eventually, after many Bible studies, sermons, devotions, counseling sessions, TED talks, books, podcasts, years, and another baby, I have come to realize that right now, my role is pretty small, but also pretty big in terms of its lasting importance, because my primary role is one of feeding the sheep set right in front of me—my kids. Now, some people come to this conclusion a lot more quickly and more easily than I did, so I don’t mean to make out like this is groundbreaking news: if you are a mother of little kids, your role is to feed them! I always knew that on some level, but I didn’t give that truth its proper weight. This time that they are here with me, especially being little, is so fleeting, I want to do my best with the precious time God’s given me.
Though I love my kids more than anything and I have realized that they are my primary ministry right now, I still struggle at times with feeling called to a role where there exists so little accountability or control. In the absence of a mountaintop experience I find my eyes wandering to bigger things—houses, jobs, vacations—anything that demands praise from others. If I follow this train of thought long enough, inevitably I end up feeling not enough in my small house with my small kids leading my small life. But each time I’ve wandered down that treacherous path, God calls me back, reminding me to stay the course between mountaintop experiences. He reminds me in the simplest but most profound ways that He is here with me, always. I don’t need a bigger life, I just need more of Jesus in my life—more of Him filling up the empty spaces in my heart until they’re endlessly full and spilling over.
I love the quote from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:
“The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself … Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare … You too must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.”
This allure of being more generous than God—I fall victim to its charms when I listen more to the roar of the crowd than to the whisper of the Spirit. While there are times when I can feed more sheep than my immediate family, it’s when I value the accolades over the calm in my home that I realize I’ve once again overextended my resources; I say yes to too many things and people, consequently burning my energy beyond my limits. I am tired and, as a result, let the pendulum swing the other way until I feel isolated and depressed. Alternatively, when I seek God continually through prayer and fill up with His love, I find that I operate out of abundance and not scarcity. I can pour out onto others—starting with the people I love the most—and then listen to the Spirit’s nudge for where to extend out from there.
I don’t know when (or if) my world will “get big again” from a worldly view in a productive sense, but I need to remember that God offers unlimited spaciousness within—and it’s here already. Contrary to what I sometimes believe, I’m not in limbo, I don’t need to wait for the next phase of life or the next mountaintop. God’s created me to do exactly what I’m doing now, and when I remember that I can be filled with the love of Christ and receive the joy that follows, and I invite you to do the same.
As I contemplate huge changes in my life, I am taking your words under serious consideration. They may perhaps be aimed at a different audience and generation, but are far more universal than that. The child becomes parent to the man.
Beautiful words Mer – so wise and lovingly given. Xxoo