One Saturday morning, at the beginning of our grief journey, Joe and I sat on a sunny patio of a nearby coffee shop. With latte in hand, we began a study on the Twenty-third Psalm. Two vital truths stood out to me about My Good Shepherd. They were from verse two, “He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23:2,3a).
When I think of green pastures, I think of the lush green hillsides and grasslands of southern Minnesota. I envisioned the sheep of this psalm lying comfy in the soft green grass. But after doing a little research, I learned that these types of green pastures don’t exist in Israel. Sheep graze on dry, rocky hillsides with hardly any vegetation. Grass grows in small tufts and clumps that sprout up around rocks and in cracks and crevices. The sheep are entirely dependent on the Shepherd to lead them to the food and rest they need.
This reality gave me a clearer picture of the landscape of my inner life. It was definitely more like a rocky desert than a green hillside. I needed and wanted my Good Shepherd to lead me forward. Craving Still Waters and Green Pastures, I longed to be restored.
I envisioned myself as a little lamb, in the presence of my Shepherd, crying out, “Baaah, Baaah!” In other words, “Help, I need you!” I discovered that going forward did not mean abandoning my old life or the current pain of the deaths of my three daughters. To embrace life meant choosing to follow my Good Shepherd IN my pain.
The tragic loss of a child seems to be always in the present. It is never over, never in the past. Grief is something to lean into. Mourning the loss of your loved one requires you to discover healthy ways to manage your tangled ball of emotions. In the light of this unchanging reality, which is far beyond one’s control, you need to focus on God’s TRUTHS.
I process and understand TRUTH most often through word pictures and analogies. I have always identified with the main character Much-Afraid, of the timeless allegory, and my favorite book, Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. She had deformities on her face and feet, representing her many fears and insecurities. This caused her to stutter when she talked and to walk with a limp. My heart journey felt like Much-Afraid’s struggle to be free and whole. I longed for the same transformation that took place in her heart.
In the end, Much-Afraid is transformed into a beautiful, victorious soul; however, early on in her upward climb, the Shepherd gives her two dreaded companions whose names are Sorrow and Suffering, to accompany her on her perilous journey.
Sorrow and Suffering had also become my unwanted companions on my journey to the high places. Many times, I fearfully protested like her, “I can’t go with them!”
But the Shepherd answered her, and me, in a kind voice, “Fear not, only believe. I promise that you will not be put to shame. Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hand in theirs, and they will take you where you want to go.”
Relating to Much-Afraid’s countless obstacles and seemingly impossible situations along the way, I felt tempted at times to end my quest for love and healing because of threatening encounters with fear, pride, resentment, bitterness, self-pity, and despair.
I eventually learned to put my hand in Sorrow and Sufferings. I discovered that if I want to rise above my present place of pain, insecurity, and fear, to the higher ground of healing, I have to climb the steep slopes of my grief and embrace my pain. At times, even now, I wonder how I can scale the intimidating mountains in front of me. There are days I feel good and see that I am moving toward the mountain peaks and suddenly my thoughts and feelings take me on a detour through the desert. As I walk through these lonely, fearful places, I continue to learn many things about depending on my Shepherd.
My Good Shepherd reminds me again and again that He will bring to fruition the seed of love He has planted in my heart and lead me to deeper places of healing. He has assured me that my unwelcomed loss will continue to produce in me His beautiful character if I trust in Him through each difficulty.
At the end of the book, Much-Afraid receives healing and a new name from the Shepherd. She becomes Grace and Glory, and her companions change from Sorrow and Suffering to Peace and Joy.
Much-Afraid eventually learned to see the world from a new perspective—through the eyes of love, learning to scale the cliffs of the high mountains with her Hinds Feet. “He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and sets me upon my high places” (Ps. 18:33).
Still Waters and Green Pastures
Along my own grief journey, I found out rather quickly that only My Good Shepherd could lead me to the green pastures and still waters I so desired and needed.
As Joe and I studied the 23rd Psalm, I learned that sheep are easily frightened and will not drink from turbulent waters. They depend on their Shepherd to lead them to calm water. The troubled waters of my circumstances made it difficult for me to drink. I could barely read my Bible for a while—although I always believed in God’s Word and wanted to read it—I could not concentrate.
So, God led me beside the still waters He knew I could drink.
His quiet waters are peaceful and gentle, providing an easy path to step in and drink deeply. My gentle places to drink from early on in my grief were cards that people sent to us with Scriptures and spiritual messages. Music and songs were also refreshing waters for me. God frequently gave me dreams, in the beginning, that felt so real, allowing me to see and be with my girls. These dreams brought comfort and peace because they represented a love that endures. Love that never fails. He continues to lead me to the peaceful streams of His Love on my upward journey to the mountain peaks of His Love.
One of many mornings of feeling overwhelmed and weak, desperate to hear from God, I picked up my favorite devotional book hoping for relief for my still-raw emotions. I read, “To faint is to fail. Men ought always to pray and not to faint.”
God’s voice seemed distant at that point because I felt faint in every way—too faint to even pray. The words from my devotional had the opposite effect I needed with words that ironically triggered feelings of failure. What help I’d hope to find became rough and turbulent waters for me.
However, God came to me in that moment of defeat and sorrow, and my Good Shepherd led me to green pastures. After closing the book, I picked up “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, and I opened the devotional reading for May 8th. As I read, my soul drank from a cool, refreshing stream and my spirit was nourished as I feasted on green pastures of truth: “You cannot see Him just now, you cannot understand Him or what He is doing, but you know Him. Shipwreck occurs when there is not the mental poise that comes from being established on the eternal truth that God is Holy Love.”
There it was—my truth: God’s love. The most powerful force in the Universe! Love is the greatest motivator. He first loves me, and I cannot help but respond.
The truth is that God loved me long before I chose to respond to His love. His love drew me to Him when I was living life my own way. It was His love that secured my eternity by hanging on a cross and taking my sins upon Himself. And it was His love that brought me through many smaller storms before the loss of my girls.
At that very moment, when my mind and heart feel raw and frail, God gently takes the initiative—and meets me with precisely what I need. He is so easy to follow. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
No grief or pain is ever too big to separate us from the Love of God. What a liberating and comforting truth it is to know that nothing can separate me from Him. Nothing, no, not a thing, can separate me from My Good Shepherd. He knows when we’re struggling in faith, and yet, in His gentle mercy, reaffirms us in and with His Love.
For nourishment, the Good Shepherd leads His sheep to the green pastures of His enduring Word, and, for rest, to the cooling and peaceful still waters of His Love. There we receive refreshment, peace, cleansing, and healing. Jesus is our gentle Shepherd who knows us intimately and cares for each of His sheep. He restores our souls in His Love. We may protest the choice of companions He assigns to us on our journey, but if we choose to put our hand in theirs, and they will take us to a place we could never go on our own.
Whenever God seems distant, remember He is as near as a good shepherd is to his sheep. God is the Good Shepherd and will not only bring you to green pastures and still waters; He will also restore your soul with His Love. He brings us back to the starting place in our relationship with Him: our need, and His ever-present love.
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Remember you are eternally loved and there will be no end to God’s love for you!