There's a popular painting of Christ carrying a lamb on His shoulders. For a long time, that painting has inspired me. Knowing that Christ was willing to go out into the desert, search in the wilderness, and go anywhere to find a lamb who has strayed gave me hope even when I felt like I had gone too far for Him to ever be able to find me... and much too far to ever find my way back.
But there's a lot more to the story than Christ simply rescuing a lamb that is lost.
You see, when a lamb wanders from the fold, the first few times the shepherd simply finds it and leads it back. But if the journey is far, or the lamb shows that it is prone to wander, the shepherd does something else.
He carefully takes the lamb in his arms...
... and breaks its legs.
The now-crippled animal is finally willing to be carried, and the shepherd drapes it over his shoulders, where it stays until the bones have healed.
Yes, the lamb in the painting - the lamb that represents me on Christ's shoulders - has broken legs.
And Christ broke them.
It may seem harsh to break a lamb's legs simply for wandering from the fold, but a lamb that is prone to wander rarely learns to trust the shepherd without it. Wandering from the fold eventually leads to death. And it works. As the bones heal over the course of weeks and months, the lamb learns to trust the shepherd and, ultimately, to follow him.
Many sheep that wandered as a lamb have a permanent limp, as broken bones don't grow back perfectly. But when other sheep may become distracted, or rarely turn from the shepherd's voice, those that learned to trust Him are willing to follow and to listen. They never wander again.
And Christ does the same thing with me.
I've strayed from the path in my life. I've told God I wanted things He wouldn't give me, turned my back on Him, and even gone so far as to draw others away from the truth.
Each time God found me, He offered to carry me home. But I'm proud. I have my own ideas, my own plans, my own dreams that take me in my own direction... and that direction may or may not match up with where He wants me to go.
So He breaks my legs.
In my case, He shatters my dreams, destroys my plans, and crushes my ideas until I'm left without direction or hope in myself.
And, at that moment, hopefully I'm humble enough to let Him carry me.
Unlike lambs, however, which the shepherd will carry against their will, I can only be carried by the Good Shepherd if I allow Him to.
And so He takes a risk in breaking me. He knows the risk... and would only do it if it gave me the best possible opportunity to return to Him. And, so, often He does. Hopefully I will choose humility and draw closer to Him. But just as possible, I could close off from God, reject Him completely, and add the new pain to a list of wrongs He has done to me.
This painting means something different to me now. First, I see the true love of God - a God who is willing to let me go through excruciating pain so that I can learn to trust Him... and who cares so much that He is willing to risk losing me to help me come home. Second, I see a lamb who is humble enough to submit to the shepherd's will. Christ was the true Lamb of God, willing to submit to His Father's will through what most people would call a terribly unfair life. He endured literally everything... which is why He is the Good Shepherd - the One to whom I can submit my own life.
I'll likely wander many times. I know that I am prone to wander... and when Christ breaks my hopes and dreams and legs, I hope that I can always be humble enough to let Him pick me up and put me on His shoulders.
And I hope that, someday, I will be one of His flock that never strays again.
"And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him." - Helaman 12:3