This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Real shepherd experience

Facebook told me the estate sale would have primitives. Several days later, Facebook added “cinnamon rolls.”

I would be there.

I don’t need any more stuff, primitive or not. I definitely don’t need another cinnamon roll in my body. There are enough rolls as it is.

But I was there. Walking among someone else’s old things, eating my roll, drinking my sweet tea.

Nothing grabbed me and insisted on going home with me, and that felt fine.

And then, on the wall, a painting.

One artist’s idea of what Jesus might have looked like. One arm cradling a lamb and the other hand stroking the head of the lamb’s mother.

shepherd painting r

The love and compassion flowing in that painting seeped into my soul and almost spilled out of my eyes.

Oh yes, the painting went home with me.

Within a week of bringing that painting home, I read a post on Facebook about what happens when a lamb is rejected by its mother. According to this story by Sheila Walsh in her book, Loved Back to Life, the lamb is called a bummer lamb. The shepherd takes it home, hand-feeds it and keeps it warm. The shepherd wraps it in a blanket and holds it to his chest so the lamb can hear his heartbeat.

“Once the lamb is strong enough, the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock,” she says. “But that sheep never forgets how the shepherd cared for him when his mother rejected him. When the shepherd calls for the flock, guess who runs to him first? That is right, it’s the bummer sheep. He knows his voice intimately. It is not that the bummer lamb is loved more; it just knows intimately the one who loves it. It’s not that it is loved more, it just believes it is because it has experienced that love one on one.”

Time and care

I know and understand shepherd duty. Been there, done that, many times. And there’s one significant factor missing in the description. The phrase “once the lamb is strong enough” should read more like this:

“For the first few nights, the shepherd gets up in the middle of the night and feeds the lamb a bottle of milk. She feeds it again in the morning, and at noon, and at bedtime, and again during the night. She does this for several days, and then the night feeding isn’t necessary. Four times a day is enough.

“As the lamb gets older, there are fewer feedings. This relationship between what I call a bottle lamb and the shepherd lasts for at least eight weeks.

“And that’s why the lamb knows my voice. We have spent significant time together. I have called that lamb’s name several times a day. Our relationship is formed through time and a caring connection.”

The reason the painting of Jesus and the sheep brought tears to my eyes is that I understand the relationship it is depicting on two levels. I understand what’s going on between Jesus, that lamb and that mother sheep.

Soul connection

Even more so, the faith formation that has been a part of my life from the time I was born connects my soul to the loving Jesus in the painting. I heard prayers, said prayers, heard Bible stories, learned Bible verses, attended church, Sunday school, Bible school, youth group — and on and on. People invested themselves in my faith formation. People gave their time. People fed me.

If you want the “real shepherd experience,” come live with us during lambing season, or buy yourself some sheep. Or, if you want the real shepherd experience, spend significant time with the Shepherd — and spend significant time feeding people, nourishing their souls.

Carol Duerksen lives on a farm in central Kansas with her husband, Maynard Knepp, and a large assortment of critters. She is a freelance writer and editor and on staff of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc., which publishes multiage curriculum online at

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