by Brian A

There once was a wandering sheep who wandered through every hill and valley he could find searching for something that could satisfy him. He had an aching need within and searched night and day for something to ease the pain. He found a particular valley in which there was water that satisfied his ache. It made him feel pleasure and acceptance. He liked that feeling, so he came to that valley often. But he noticed that his thirst was never really satisfied. It lasted only a short time before the thirst grew worse and he needed more of the water. He also noticed that there was a foul smell to the water. He looked around at other sheep who drank from this valley. What a ragged, malnourished bunch they were. Many had sores all over, but kept drinking the foul water. He decided never to come to this valley again. He wandered and wandered, but that ache within always drove him back to the valley. He drank more and more of the water. Some times it was delicious, but it always made him feel bad afterwards. He started developing sores himself. Finally he cried out, “Someone please help me, for I am a poor, sick sheep who has no shepherd.”

Then he heard the voice. It was a joyous voice, and the sound of it thrilled him. It was the voice of the Good Shepherd, and He said, “At last I have found you, my beloved long lost sheep. I have searched all over for you.” He felt the Good Shepherd pick him up and carry him on his shoulders. Life was good being carried along by this Shepherd. He felt true love and acceptance and satisfaction for the first time. He was carried to a rich pasture. The Shepherd called all His friends together to celebrate. The sheep was so thankful. Everything he ever needed or desired was in this pasture. But he loved the Shepherd’s voice most of all. Every word out of the Shepherd’s mouth was precious to him. He wanted everything he ever did to please Him.

One day the Good Shepherd told him that He was taking him to another pasture far away. He told him it would be a hard, bumpy road and that he would often find himself alone. But He said not to worry, because even though you won’t always see me, I’ll always be there, and I’ll make sure that there is enough food for you. You’ll know the way because you know Me. I am the way. The sheep agreed. He loved his Shepherd so much that he didn’t care about a long lonely road. But on the way, he started to feel that old ache again. His companions all deserted him along the road. Then he started to hear another voice whispering to him about the pleasures of the water of the valley. “But my master said I was never to go to that valley again,” he replied. But this was a cunning voice that called him over and over again. The voice convinced him that his shepherd wasn’t taking very good care of him and couldn’t relate to that aching need within. Soon the sheep was running back to the forbidden valley. He gulped down as much water as he could take in. It felt good, and he was satisfied again. But soon after, he felt a horror he had never experienced before. He had betrayed his beloved Shepherd who was always so good to him. He wanted to run back to the Shepherd’s arms, but that voice was now telling him that his shepherd wouldn’t take him back. It said that the Shepherd would be angry and would abandon him on the road. Lost in grief and despair, he comforted himself with the only thing he could find, the water of the valley.

Soon he was drinking huge quantities of the foul water. He felt less and less satisfaction, but couldn’t live without it. Then he discovered other valleys lower and darker with water that satisfied him more, but left him emptier than ever. At times he headed back to the road he had left. He often made it nearly all the way back. He thought so much of the peace and joy he had known with his Shepherd. But the shame of his actions always turned him around. So he lived many years in despair, drinking filthier and filthier water and hating what he had become. He was the loneliest and most despised sheep on the face of the earth. One day as he was napping in the darkest valley he had known, he heard a voice calling his name. It sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it. Then he remembered. He had almost forgotten the sound of that voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd. He wanted to hide, but soon the Shepherd appeared over a hill. He wanted to run away, but strangely, he was drawn to his master. He fell down at the Shepherd’s feet. “I’m so sorry, my Lord,” he said with tears running down his face. “Will You take me back?”

“Of course I will take you back,” his Shepherd replied, hugging him. “Don’t you know that I never stopped loving you for a second. I have been out searching for you all these years. I left my other sheep just to come looking for you, and I was not going to return until I found you. That’s how much I love you. My heart has ached for you, and I’m so glad to have you back. I always go after my lost sheep no matter where they roam. Come. I will clean you up and give you good food and drink to satisfy you. I will call a feast in your honor and you will have the best seat. I will call all my friends and we will rejoice.”

“But I am not worthy of your love,” the sheep replied. “But I love you because it is my nature to love. I am love. You must accept that and never question it again,” said the Good Shepherd.

So now the wandering sheep is back home with his beloved Shepherd. He loves his master more than ever, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for Him. His road is still bumpy and lonely much of the time, but he has learned to hear his master’s voice leading him on. The ache in his soul is going away, because more and more the Good Shepherd is filling it. He has learned to love the road he is on. It is a narrow road, but there is food along the way. He has to work to find the food his master leaves for him, but it is worth all the effort because the food is a taste of heaven. The water of the valley is still all around him, but now he knows the lie of false pleasure, and he knows that tempting voice is the father of lies. Occasionally, he still wanders off and drinks the forbidden water, but it is happening less and less. And he gets right back on the road his master put him on, knowing that he is accepted back as soon as he repents. Nothing can separate him from the love of the Good Shepherd and the good food He supplies. He knows there is a lusher and greener pasture than he can ever imagine at the end of the road, and he will be there one day in the presence of his Shepherd always.