It had been there for as long as I could remember. We would see it whenever we came back from the pool, our bodies sopping wet as we made our way into the house after a long day of swimming. And again, while hunched over my grandma, watching as she tightened a loose button or hemmed an Easter Dress…
There it was, in my grandmother’s sewing room, taped onto the side of her sewing machine; A picture of The Good Shepherd.
Each time I caught a glimpse of it, I’d stare at it for a moment, taking note of both the tenderness in Jesus’ eyes, and the way the picture had faded in the sunlight.
Cute… I’d think to myself.
But I saw no need for such a sissy-looking Jesus.
…That is, until, my daddy issues started to surface.
the sissy Jesus The Good Shepherd, who had always been there, staring up at me from my grandmother’s sewing machine, came to life in a whole new way. In a way, the fatherless like me, so desperately long for.
The Hired Hand
This last week, my preschooler inquired sweetly, if I had a Dad. (She doesn’t remember him.)
It’s been since before she was born that my conversations with my father haven’t been strained, and our hugs forced. It’s been over a year since I have heard his voice. Two, since I have seen his face.
It’s not that my father has died, he is just no longer ‘there.’
In John 10:11-12 Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd sacrifices His life for the sheep. A hired hand will run… he will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd.”
Just like a shepherd who is appointed by God to take care of His flock, so were our fathers given the responsibility to take care of us.
While at their best, fathers can breathe life and confidence into their ‘flock’, teaching their children which qualities to look for in a husband, or who to become as a man. At their worst, they can run away from their families and abandon the ones God has appointed them to care for, just like the verse says.
…Either way, our fathers are just a hired hand. We don’t belong to them. We never did. We belong to Jesus.
…and He isn’t nearly as sissy as I once thought.
God Doesn’t Need Anyone’s Help
In Ezekiel 34 God refers to Himself in the same passage, not only as the (sissy) Good Shepherd but something entirely different –The (powerful) Sovereign Lord!
Sovereign can literally be defined as having ‘ultimate power.’ And every time God refers to Himself as ‘The Sovereign Lord’ I picture Him saying, “I am the Lord who doesn’t need anyone else’s help taking care of you”…Even from your father.
God knows the circumstances that left our families shattered, and our fathers absent… And The Sovereign Lord – who doesn’t need anyones help taking care of you – promises to seek us out and find us in those dark, and so very secret places. (vs. 11-12)
God also knows the scars our hearts bear because of the irresponsibility of our fathers… but the Sovereign Lord – who doesn’t need anyone’s help taking care of you – promises to bandage those wounds and strengthen our hearts. (vs. 15-16)
‘We are His flock, the sheep of His pasture,’ The Sovereign Lord says in Ezekiel 34:31. Making it clear, He doesn’t need anyone’s help taking care of us.
(Even from our fathers.)
Moved With Compassion
I will never forget the first time I spoke with my counselor about my relationship (or lack thereof) with my father.
She had been the one to counsel me through my (near) divorce, and throughout my season of depression. Yet, the first time I spoke to her about my relationship with my father, she did something surprising that she had never done before.
…at the end of our session (when I had already paid her for her time, and her job was done) she got out of her chair, met me at the door, and hugged me.
Like, really hugged me.
Maybe they teach counselors to do that; to hug girls like me, with hurts like that. But still to this day, it remains one of the kindest, most compassionate gestures I have ever received (and had no idea I needed.)
Jesus has the same compassion for us as well.
In Mark 6:34 Jesus’ job was done and he was retreating by boat to be alone after doing ministry all day. But when he saw how helpless and confused the people were – ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ – he changed his plans and stepped out of the boat, because he had compassion on them.
I believe fatherlessness is like that to God. It compels Him to get out of the boat, to change His plans and meet us at the door, like my counselor. To listen intently and hug us intensely, because God is so moved with compassion for us and for the unique way we hurt.
Isaiah 40:11 says, “[God] will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart.”
I believe God holds everyone. I just like to believe He holds the fatherless just a tiny bit closer to His heart.
And I feel it.
All That I Need
I’ll oftentimes catch myself wondering, if my father were here right now, if he would be proud of the woman I’m becoming. Only for my Heavenly Father to respond, “My Child, I always have been… right by your side, and beaming with pride!”
(And that makes me tear up, even as I type.)
Because whether I realize it or not, I already have the only Father I will ever need. Psalm 23:1 puts it this way, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need…”
There will always be moments when I don’t have a relationship with my father, that it is so clear I am missing something in my life. When there is no one to call to ask car questions to, or to celebrate on Father’s day. And the truth is, when he misses a memory or his granddaughter’s minion-themed birthday party, I’ll likely always feel the weight of his absence…
But in the absence of our earthly fathers, may we not lose sight of the sufficiency of our Heavenly Father. The Good Shepherd who promises to be there — and who always has been!
….Literally, staring up from my Grandmother’s sewing machine.
And that (sissy) Jesus is all that I need.