Friday, August 12

Prone to Wander

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.

On purpose.

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


  1. Happened upon your blog just yesterday through a link from Women in the Scriptures and was so touched by your insight in yesterday's post about the BYU Honor Code that I signed up. However, I had no idea that you were writing just for me! Your writing is compelling and your discernment truly a gift. I have always loved this painting, as despite having been branded the "black sheep" of the family, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ I have hope and love in my life. You have opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of the essential principal of obedience in learning to follow the Savior. Thank you for the love and effort you extend in sharing these profound thoughts and feelings.

  2. bro, this makes me so sad. As off-spring of God, must we really be tortured to make us follow Him? Would He really inflict pain to "force" us to walk with Him?

    "Wondering" has it's own punishment. After a while, we decide freely to come back to Him, and there He is... waiting for us at the door. No force, He did not inflict you with pain.

    Trusting God is a tough thing. Elder Bednar's Ensign article fits here... do we have enough faith not to be healed? Will we believe even if we don't get those mortal dreams we hope for? Is our faith eternal, or is is temporal?

    I don't know you, but I feel like I have an idea of your struggle and your determination to find a way to keep the commandments. I'm pretty sure our Father does not feel the need to break your legs. Seems like you are on the path already.

    1. As I said in the post, it may seem harsh to break a lamb's legs, but it's effective. And while many people want to assume that God only wants us to experience happiness, rainbows, and bliss, that's not the God that I know - the God who broke Abraham's dreams and hopes by commanding Him to sacrifice Isaac, or the God who barred Moses from entering the Promised Land and then made His children wander in the desert for 40 years. A surgeon will break your legs to allow them to grow back straight, or even break your chest to do the same. I believe that's a sign of a loving God, not a vengeful or hurtful one.

  3. I don't know that I'm particularly prone to wander. Perhaps I am and don't realise it. But, what I *do* know, is that in my brokenness, I have come to know and yes, TRUST my Saviour implicitly, and I will not wander again. I have no desire to.
    Excellent post, David!

  4. This is an awful post. The Savior would never hurt anyone like that, wilds never betray someone's legs. It's a hurtful analogy and I don't know how you can attribute something like this to the Savior. You might break someone's legs, the Savior would not.

    1. I respectfully disagree. There are countless situations where God deliberately places me and others into emotionally, physically, and socially painful environments with the goal of effecting deep personal change. I could pray for humility and get hit by a car the next day. Or want to get into a grad program and find every single one barring my way - with no explanation from admissions committees other than a feeling in their gut.

      There's a current trend in the Church where people, in order to make God look more "loving," attribute only the "good" things in life to God, and attribute all the "bad" things to Satan, mortality, ourselves, agency, or other hand-waved whatever. That is a dangerous, false attribution that only prepares people to reject God when things get really, really tough. I think that belief breeds apostasy more than perhaps any other. That's not my God. My God is the God of the Universe, and He is in 100% complete control. If He wants something to happen in my life, it happens. Period. If He doesn't want it to happen, it doesn't happen. Period. A mortal human can't make His Plan go awry, and neither can global warming, armies of infidels, or anything.

      And my God has definitely broken my dreams and hopes more times than I can imagine. God could take my trials away. He could make my dreams come true.

      He could, and He doesn't. Instead, He allows me to go through intense pain and heartache with the hope that I will turn to Him.

      Thankfully, I have changed, and I have seen how truly loving heartache and broken legs can be.

      I assert that God is in complete control of my life, and that all the heartache He allows to exist is for a valid, meaningful purpose. He does break my legs, in both real and metaphoric ways, because that can teach me humility, faith, and to follow Him. And I am grateful both for a God who loves me too much to just send bliss, and for the perspective to be able to truly see and acknowledge His hand in all things.

  5. Wow since there are no coincidences in life I now that I truly needed to hear this thank you!

  6. Thanks for sharing! I know that our Heavenly Father allows awful things to happen to us because unfortunately there are lessons that we can't learn either way. The example is a little gruesome, but then again, so is life.

    Elder Christofferson's talk (as most people who heard/read it will remember) describes an individual chopping limbs off of a current bush like the Black Night in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but most people don't see that as harsh, yet it's the sample principle.

  7. Hey, thank you so much for posting this, you just make me feel it's possible to "carry on" with this incredibly heavy prove that God has given to us. After all the difficulties of carrying this through this life, that with the other usual problems makes us feel that life is not for us, we can still be trying and trusting God. It's good for me to know that I'm not alone, I mean, just know another Mormon guy that is enduring and struggling with the same wall as me, but not trying to aim out of God's paths. Thank you. You are an awesome man!


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