Blessed are the Homesick

It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, "It is winter and I'll prove it to you." The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I'd forgiven him before it happened. It wasn't him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it. I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don't feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I've never felt before. One of the questions was, "How much new are you facing?" I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, "It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you've had to learn to sleep in three different time zones." It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I've longed for from someone else. "Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it's not a tired a good night sleep will fix."

This isn't meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It's more just a reminder to me that I don't receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don't receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate's apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don't just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don't do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I'd beg you to not assume, because either they're not that complex and the joke's on me, or they are, and the joke's on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can't even answer straight because we're so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn't get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn't answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, "He sets the lonely in families," and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette's Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen's blessing, "Blessed are the homesick," because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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Good Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

This past spring my pastor said to me, “The sheep never stop needing a shepherd.” In context he was saying, “I kept waiting for a time when the sheep wouldn’t need me so badly, for a time when they’d grow up and mature, but the truth is as long as God has me here, I’m their shepherd and am called to them.” This morning we read Psalm 23 and John 10 and last night in a meeting we talked about what faithful and good shepherding looks like and how we fail at it so often. A good sermon does not a good shepherd make. A good spreadsheet does not a good shepherd make. And a good event planner does not a good shepherd make.

To know what makes a good shepherd, we look to the Good Shepherd, Christ.

A good shepherd leaves the flock to find the one (John 10:16) Good shepherding means at times the majority of the flock may feel left alone, but if they know their shepherd, they trust he will return. They know the business of their shepherd, which is to care for each sheep—even the wayward ones. The good shepherd always returns and teaches his flock to rejoice at the homecoming of the lost.

A good shepherd uses his rod and staff (Ps 23:3) Good shepherding means faithful disciplining, but it also means knowing discipline is ultimately a comfort. The ultimate aim of discipline is not alienation, but cultivation for the sake of health. The good shepherd corrals his sheep toward the flock because it is the safest place for them.

A good shepherd lays down his life (John 10:11) A good shepherd does not count his life as something to be grasped or held or protected. He does not protect his personality, his comforts, his time, or his energy. He lays himself across the threshold of the gate and lays down his life.

A good shepherd knows his Father and his Father knows him (John 10:14) A good shepherd is like Enoch, walking with God. His food is to do the will of the Father. He knows the father more than he knows good theologians or good literature. He is known by the Father, laying bare his life and heart before the one who shepherds the shepherd.

A good shepherd has authority (John 10:18) A good shepherd does not demand authority or grasp for it. He simply has it because it has been given to him. He does not cajole or fear when authority seems far from him, he knows who his Father is and the task he has been given.

A good shepherd knows where the still waters and green pastures are and leads his sheep there (Ps 23:1) A good shepherd has adventured out to faraway lands to seek out still waters and green pastures. He has looked under rocks, in dark places, climbed hills, and been sunk in valleys. He seeks and find the stillest waters and greenest pastures for the good of his flock. He does not lead his sheep to mediocre places.

I look through this list and see the myriad of ways I fail at shepherding anyone, even my own heart, and I remember Isaiah’s words in chapter 30:

In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

If you feel less like a shepherd and more like a lost sheep these days, leading other sheep in wandering ways, return. Rest. Quiet. Trust. Christ is the Good Shepherd and in His goodness He is leading you to good places.

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