Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He leads us where he wants us to go. Good parenting looks like shepherding, keeping little ones where they need to be and out of danger. Considering Middle Eastern shepherding practices puts fresh perspective on how we can successfully lead our children.
A good shepherd pays attention to individual sheep. At different times, one sheep or another needs personal attention. This can be tricky with large families. How does a parent stay in tune with the flock in order to minister to the one most needing care? Wonder about the condition of your child, spirit, soul, and body. Notice changes in their attitude, growth, and development. For example, when my boys had growth spurts they could tend to be hungry and tired. They needed extra food and rest. It’s a lot of work to sprout up like a rubber tree plant! Being aware of what might be going on in their bodies physiologically can give insight on how you might lead them with wisdom.
Perhaps your talkative child has gone silent. Take the opportunity to spend some extra time with that child. Pray beforehand, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal anything that is hidden (Luke 8:17). The Lord wants to lead his children toward Himself, and it is our greatest privilege as parents to place the hands of our children into the hand of our Lord. He promises in Jeremiah 3:15, “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” Ask God to give you knowledge and understanding regarding your kids. After all, James 1 promises that when we ask for wisdom, he will give it to us!
A good shepherd leads by example. Many times a shepherd and his sheep will need to cross a stream or river. Sheep by nature are easily frightened and moving water is one of the things that frighten them most. This is why in Psalm 23 David states, “He leads me beside still waters…” When it becomes necessary to lead your family into uncharted territory you go before them. Encourage them to stay close behind as you move forward. Guide them against the current. Teach them how to keep their focus on the goal ahead by your example. Be transparent with them by sharing your goals, dreams, and challenges. Show them your determination to move against opposition by keeping the prize in sight.
A good shepherd pursues the wayward. Often when a shepherd crosses a stream, there is a weak lamb who gets swept away with the current. Bleating and afraid, the lamb struggles to keep its head above water. A good shepherd will leave the flock to rescue the one in danger. “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing.” This would apply to the child that has willingly strayed from the direction of the shepherd as well as the one who inadvertently gotten caught in a trap or hidden danger.
A good shepherd redirects. Like children, there are sheep with different personalities. Some stick close to the shepherd, enjoying companionship, others are curious and stray. The one who stays close is lead gently and without trauma as it continues on the path with its eyes on its leader. The wayward sheep must be pulled in with the shepherd’s crook. It’s way doesn’t seem as easy as the first sheep. However, the commitment of the shepherd does not change. He keeps corralling the little one back to the fold. We must never grow weary in well doing with our children. Constantly bringing them back to the direction we are leading can be exhausting! But the fruit of it is eternal, and all that really matters.
A good shepherd trusts the Good Shepherd. Ezekiel 34:11-13 states, “For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for my sheep and seek them out.’ As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for my sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” It is a cloudy and gloomy day indeed for us as parents when our children stray from the way we have led them over the years. However, we have the example of the Good Shepherd who can help us to “find” where our lost sheep are and minister healing to them so that they can again join our journey to the One who shepherds all of our souls. In the meantime, while they are lost, we can trust their care to the greater Shepherd. He is able to keep them in the palm of His hand. Psalm 28:9 shares a prayer to this Great Shepherd, “Save Your people and bless your inheritance: Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever.” He will carry us forever, both parent and child.
Whether we exemplify a shepherd by being watchful, leading by example, going back for a wayward sheep, or correcting the wanderer, it is easy to see the parallels between shepherding and parenting. It is often said that we see our Heavenly Father much the same as we experience our earthly parents. Gently leading and guiding our children prepares them to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as He guides them throughout the rest of their lives.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra