Come and Go, both Now and Forever
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May 6, 2011 | 1187 views | Post a comment
A friend recently explained to me the phrase “come and go” found sometimes in Hebrew Scriptures and prayers. I was familiar with the expression from Psalm 121 where the author wrote, “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever,” but I had never thought about the wording very much.
My friend shared that “come and go” seems to be a word picture rooted in the pastoral culture of the ancient Mideast. The sheep “come and go,” out of the sheepfold and into the greater world. They “come and go” to eat on the green hillsides, to take a drink from the brook, to frolic in the grass, or to take a nap in the sun -- always under the watchful, compassionate eye of the shepherd.
This affords the sheep the peace of living in an oblivious sense of wonder and satisfaction. They have no feelings of want or anxiety. They never worry about food, water, or a safe place to sleep. They are unconcerned with lurking dangers or with deadly predators that might be over the next ridge.
The sheep, quoting another great Psalm, “shall not want” because of their good shepherd. He gives them the peace to “come and go” in safety, even when they are completely unaware of his presence, and ignorant of his goodwill toward them. The spiritual applications, of course, are obvious.
I’m no sheep herder, and I doubt that many of my readers are. But most of us have those under our care whom we shepherd, as intentional as if we had Little Bo Peep’s crook in our hand. Children, grandchildren, students, parishioners, even some employees and friends: We try to give them a healthy environment in which to “come and go,” even when they don’t recognize it.
One of the “sheep” in my life is one of my sons. He is a fun, beautiful, infectious, athletic, highly intelligent child. At times, like any adolescent boy, he is also a defiant, stubborn, burning firebrand.
He was in full rebellious, red-hot mode not many days ago: Shouting, screaming, complaining about what I was making him do, railing against a teacher, throwing stuff across the room. To make matters more combustible, I was tired, raw, and lacking any patience myself.
Before I knew it I had snatched him up by the collar, picking his heels off the ground. I got right in his face, and bellowed, “You listen to me! I am the only thing standing between you and your life being a disaster and you don’t even know it! Pray to God that I don’t ever quit standing in that way, because if that happens, it means I’ve given up on you.”
I don’t offer my behavior as parenting advice or as a worthy example. Hardly. I was far too impulsive and smeared on more than sufficient shame. Yet, as grace would have it, and in spite of myself, at that moment my words seemed to get past the flames to the boy’s brain. It wasn’t a breakthrough, but there was some genuine understanding.
The truth is, none of my children -- no children -- ever see what their parents do to keep them from disaster. They never see what goes on behind the scenes: Wrenching financial decisions, job demands, emptying of the family checkbook, meetings at school, with coaches, with police officers, juggling of schedules, robbing Peter to pay Paul, yanking that sheep from a cliff in the nick of time, late night agonizing, early morning rising -- and for what? So that child, knowingly or not, can safely and securely live a life that is full of life.
When we have to yank a collar we must keep faith and see that such an act (even when our skills are lacking but hearts are right) is an act of intervening grace. And we should thank God there were people in our own lives that were willing to yank us by the collar when we needed it. Their good shepherding kept us “coming and going” in peace.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.