Everywhere we looked, the beauty took our breath away. From steep cliffs to large pastures of sheep and cattle to waterfalls surprising us at too many turns to count on the single-track mountain roads. One of us was always saying wow! Or, look to the right! Or, highland coos to the left! Or, did you see that? And yet, as we gushed over the landscape, we were reminded that the magic of this place was also thick with melancholy.
The Scottish Highlands was our last of three stops on a recent family vacation to the United Kingdom. While I loved all the places we visited in the UK, this particular place will stay with me for a long time.
The peaceful pastures, ragged rock ruins, and signs with both English and Gaelic throughout the northern half of Scotland are mysterious and magical, and they are also a reminder of the brutal history and strong spirit of the Scottish people. In the 1700-1800s, entire highland villages were forcibly removed from their land to make more room for sheep and to erase highland culture. Along with the removal of people, the Act of Proscription was passed to force assimilation. The law prohibited bagpipes, traditional clothing (Clan tartan), and the teaching of Scottish Gaelic.
Ruined rocks of remembrance scattered throughout the Scottish highlands reminded me that the land and the people who lived there have grieved and were grieved against for the sake of power, profit, and control.
In John 21, Jesus gives His disciple, Peter, a three-fold command to feed His sheep. Our resurrected Jesus appeared and took the time to feed His disciples on the shore of Galilee. He then asks a full-bellied and full-spirited Peter if he loves Him. Each time Peter declares that yes, he loves Him, and Jesus responds to that declaration with a command to “feed His sheep.” Jesus was telling Peter that loving Him, the Shepherd and King of kings, would be proven by his feeding, caring for, and tending to, Jesus’ sheep — His people. Peter’s love for Jesus and his leadership had to be motivated by serving others in love — never to be proven by proclamation, power, and profit.
It’s easy to imagine Jesus holding a soft fluffy sheep or standing among a flock with a shepherd’s staff, but when we were walking through pastures full of sheep, I was struck by the smell and how hard it was to dodge the sheep droppings that covered the grass and walking paths. The sheep huddled together in groups, adorable but leery. They were cautious of us, constantly skittering away to keep a safe distance. They were much messier, more varied, mistrusting, and wild than I would’ve imagined them to be.
Living out our love for Jesus isn’t tidy or time-efficient. Love suffers long, and it’s willing to walk through messy, smelly pastures for the sake of another. Living out our love for Jesus isn’t shiny or brag-worthy; it is ordinary and often wearisome work. To care for people made in the image of God, Jesus’ beloved “sheep,” requires that we regularly tend to our identity as those who are loved and created to love, nourish, and tend to others just as we have been by Jesus.
The history of highland clearances seems removed and far away from my daily life and experience, but when I think of the relational strife amongst my kids, and how wearisome it can be to work through the same issues day in and day out, I see myself and how often I want to control them instead of gently love them through it. I think of the family member whom I find little in common with, how often I’ve rolled my eyes over their comments or wished they would change or see things my way. I think of the parts of myself or others that I struggle to accept and want to squish into the image of another, and realize that the lie of assimilation comes for all of us in some way, shape, or form. I think of the weeds that keep growing in our yard, wishing there was some instant magic to get rid of them all and how if there was, I’d choose it instead of the hard, sweaty, repetitive work of weeding over time. Again and again, I see in myself a tendency towards fixing what’s wrong in my own power, taking over, pointing my finger, and letting fear of what I don’t understand in someone else motivate me, instead of curiosity and humility.
While the world weeps with so much historical injustice and present pain, I feel overwhelmed by how much there is to tend to. I find myself faltering behind the cowardly laziness of “why bother?” Or I sink into the overwhelm of trying to take in too much. I ask Jesus, “How long?” Then I hear His voice and His heart again saying, “Do you love me? If you love me, feed my sheep.”
This gentle command is somehow enough to remind me who I am, who my neighbor is, and to help me begin, rest, then begin again.
Ruth Mills says
I sometimes grasp that loving others is messy & not time efficient but I must confess I am quicker to get it when I consider how messy & time gobbling Jesus’ tending/loving/sanctifying me is! And yet He chose to step from heaven to tend to His sheep beyond what we know needs tending! Wow Wow Wow! Thank you for sharing. I needed this encouragement this am. Blessings!
I’m so glad it encouraged you, Ruth. I can definitely relate to what you said.
In Jesus time & before, being a Shepherd was the lowest Job you could have! They were usually social outcasts, to people in cities & towns. Because sheep are smelly & skittish to take care of, it was a hard job to do.
As a Christian, am I willing to be a social outcast, to follow Jesus by feeding His sheep?
I’m so glad we follow Jesus, who wasn’t afraid to love in the margins and be on the margins.
Robin Dance says
There’s a heaviness and stickiness to your words that I can’t ignore (in a good way). I supposed it’s in my nature to want to take the easy way, but leading with love can sometimes be so hard. But isn’t it always the better way?
Thank you for helping me to see “sheep” in a much broader light. xo
Robin, thank you for your response – I’m glad there was a stickiness to the words. It’s in my nature to take the easy way too but you’re right, the messier way has many treasures. Grateful for you.
Jill Calloway says
Wow! I needed to hear this today. “Love them instead of control them.” Yes that is what we are supposed to do. How I do like to control. Life is messy, but my peace comes from God. Thank you for your beautiful words.
Jill, I so often have to reorient my natural response of control. So glad you are here!
Such a powerful message. It is appreciated more than you can imagine. Thank you.
Thank you, Madeline. I’m so glad the article met you when you needed it.
Read A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty Third Psalm if you want to fully see how we are like sheep.
A sermon I heard once suggested that Jesus asked Peter 3 times to clear the 3 denials from Peter’s conscience.
Yes, it’s one of my favorite Psalms.
Tasha, I am humbled by your post and incredibly grateful. I second Madeline’s comment that it is appreciated more than you can imagine.
I’m so glad to know that, Cheyla. Happy you are here!
Diane Bailey says
We want to control instead of love… Yes. I think too, as a mom, we want to fix, remove pain, stop mistakes – like God has no part in growing them. Like it is all up to us.
Love, pray, trust and believe. He can accomplish all things.
Yes, I often react as if it’s all up to me… may we gently learn and receive the better way of love. Glad you are here, Diane.
Dawn Ferguson-Liitle says
Tashia thank you for what you wrote. It speaks volumes to me. We see sheep in a field as animals with a fluffy white coats. But if we look at a sheep closely we see they get dirty and don’t most of them if not all them don’t keep their coats nice and white and fluffy. It reminds me of our lives. We are meant to be living as pure white followers of Jesus keep ourselves clean and keeping all the sin away that would make us dirty and not as white as we should be at times. If we want to live right for the King and that King is Jesus. We have to let Jesus be our shepherd and us be his sheep. As sheep know their master voice and they listen to it obey it. Jesus is our master/shepherd. If we want to be the people Jesus want us to be and live as he would have us live. We have to do as Jesus says and his words says. Let Jesus be the shepherd in our lives we be sheep that listen to his voice and live as his words says. This is what real love for Jesus is all about. We go about doing the work of shepherd Jesus. Living as his word says and that means loving people of all walks of life no matter what skin colour they have. We have to show them especially if not saved the saviour Love. We can do that by the way we live. That we are praying for our world no gossping we go the extra mile to help some in need. We watch what we say and do. In fact everything we do is about what Jesus and saying to ourselves would Jesus do if we come up against something or if someone needs help. As we are the hand and feet of Jesus in a world that need him. But there are so many don’t see it. We can show this world that by the way we live in everything we do. By letting Jesus be our shepherd and we be his sheep and let him guide us to live the right away. So the world see we are different we are living for our shepherd who is Jesus. We can know Jesus can be our shepherd and he will guide us to live right for him if we let him. Psalm 23 verse 1 says “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” If we go on into that Psalm we see in verse 2 & 3 “He makes us lie down in green pastures he leads me besides the still waters. He restores my soul he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name sake. ” That says it all. If we make Jesus our shepherd and love him the way he loves us then we can go on to love overs like Jesus does. That is real Love and that is how to Love Jesus I say Amen to this. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xx❤️
Thank you Dawn, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
Uh huh. Yup. Tell it, girl! Well said.
Glad you are here, Irene!
Nancy Peters says
Great blog! You first pulled me in with your description of the Scottish Highlands. Then I loved how you moved to “feeding my sheep”. Such honest words about the difficulty dealing with certain people around us. ( “pointing the finger” – oh, how we love to do that!!…yes, guilty!) But Jesus told us we must love everyone and try to reach out to those around us. We never know what issues and problems others are going through. We need to see them with compassion. Thank you for your words this morning!! Blessings to you and your family!!
Thank you so much, Nancy. I’m glad the article drew you in and spoke to you. It’s so true that we see so little and know so much when it comes to what others are going through. I hope I can keep growing in seeing others through compassion – may we all. Glad you are here.
Pearl Allard says
Thank you. Needed the reminder this morning that our lives are supposed to be about serving others.
Thank you, Pearl. I’m glad it was a good reminder. I need those often!
Ariel Krienke says
Learn from history. Don’t fall for anything that takes away someone’s free will. God gave it so it is his alone to take away if he chooses.
Beth Williams says
Oh how much are we humans like sheep messy, varied, mistrusting, and wild. It takes a lot of effort, work & time to care for us. I believe that is why Jesus compared us to sheep. To be like Jesus we have to sacrifice time, money & effort to care for His flock. For me that looks like going down to Loaves & Fishes Food bank on my day off & helping prepare meals, clean up, give out food boxes, etc. Sometimes on Saturdays I assist in yard sales & Food Drives to help support them & their mission.
I showed my love for Jesus years ago by quitting a good job & being more available for my aging dad. I visited him in the assisted living. Aided him in obtaining needed supplies, took him to doctor’s appointments, & even fed him when hands were to shaky. There were late night calls to go to ER when he fell, etc. It wasn’t what I had expected my life to be at the time, but it was where God wanted me. Attending to one of His precious sheep.
Agreed, Beth! Thank you for sharing that story of caring for you Dad. That was a beautiful picture. Grateful for you.