But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard for one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.” (Genesis 33:13-14 NIV)
Jacob was a shepherd. He cared for his flock and he understood them. Jacob was also a father, blessed with a great flock of children. Both as a shepherd and a father, Jacob showed great tenderness towards his sheep and children, slowing down to their pace so that they would not grow weary and die.
Throughout Scripture, sheep and children are often interchangeable. We know our Father to be the Good Shepherd, and so most of us have taken into account that we are His sheep, His children. We can see that in imitating God, we are called to be shepherds of our own smaller flocks – our children.
However, when we fall prey to false beliefs or ideals about motherhood, we can find ourselves struggling to be good shepherds.
Through the Valleys We Go
We might find we have a tendency to lead our children on and on, endlessly trudging head-down, past the green pastures, refusing to let them rest and quench their thirst beside the still waters.
As mothers, we know that rest is not easy. We have to-do lists that keep us up at night, we have accumulating guilt over school work that isn’t being reviewed on our week off, we have to make sure everyone is wearing their coats when we head out the door, and we have to make sure the dishes get done. Do we ever simply happen upon a place of rest? A green pasture to lie down in, perhaps?
We tell ourselves we’ll rest when we’re through all the hardship, but when we walk into the place of rest, we get some sort of second wind and move right along into the next valley. This might be our pace, but it is not the pace of the children. Perhaps we also need to slow down.
Our culture does not care for the pace of the children. We live in this luxurious world, where we can have almost anything we want right away, where there are innumerable learning experiences and endless commitments. But when our young children enter into this world, few of us are gentle or tender toward them and little patience is extended for their frailty.
Let us not look toward the world to be our shepherd. If we do, we will not find rest, and we will not be able to be a good shepherd to our own lambs.
Imitating a Good Father
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3 ESV)
Psalm 23 is a beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd, but it isn’t just a lovely depiction of how our Heavenly Father shepherds us – it is an image He has given us to imitate as we shepherd our own flock.
Let us remember to go out of our way and take our children to the green pastures, just as our Father leads us to the green pastures. It is not only in the valleys that we experience the good nature of our Shepherd. His kindness is evident when He intentionally leads us to places of peace, rest and quiet.
The blessings of our Shepherd are blessings we should imitate. He doesn’t relentlessly push us through valley after valley until we happen along a green pasture. He leads us from pasture to pasture. This is how He restores our soul. This is how we restore our children’s souls.
When He leads us beside the still waters, it is so that we can take a drink. Mama, I want to encourage you to be in the Word every day. When we are weary, needing rest, needing peace, we need the Good Shepherd to provide it.
His Word is for our thirsty, tired souls. We need to be fueling up on it. It is to be our meditation night and day. If our to-do list is our meditation night and day, it will show in how we shepherd our children.
Are we pushing them too hard? Are we pushing ourselves too hard? What are we meditating on? Remember that life isn’t one big valley. We don’t have to gird up our loins and careen through life.
The Lord our Shepherd is gentle. He lets us lie down in green pastures, He leads us beside still waters.
He Gently Leads
Our children are the lambs in Isaiah 40:11.
“He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (ESV)
That place of quiet and rest is for the lambs as much as it is for you, mama. The Good Shepherd is our example. When the lambs are weary, He carries them; when we are with young or nursing infants, He leads us gently.
Last but not least, Psalm 103:14 says, “He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.”
We are mortal. Our children are mortal. Just as we see that Jacob cared for the sheep – not rushing them or driving them to the point of death – so we also know that the Good Shepherd does not hurry us. And if the Lord does not hurry us, should we hurry our children? Instead, we need to let them delight in the Lord, in His Word, and in His world.
Remember, dear mother: set aside some time simply for the sake of enjoying our good Father and resting. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it: What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.