by Laurie Gudim
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” – John 10:27-30
Like so many of us, I’ve had some bad experiences when it comes to belonging. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I’d often be the stranger in a community that knew one another pretty well. I was not outgoing, and I didn’t make friends easily, a fact my extrovert mother couldn’t understand. “Smile more,” she would tell me. “Make jokes with the kids. Get them to play with you.” But nothing she suggested was in my wheelhouse. As often as not, I’d become the brunt of jokes and bullying and then eventually be forgotten as the lives of my peers went on without me.
I was baptized when I was six months old and confirmed in some innocuous Protestant church when I was twelve. Because I was the stranger there too, my confirmation teachers forgot to include me in the ceremony until they saw me weeping at my mother’s side in one of the front pews. I’d participated in the classes and done all the work preparatory to making my commitment to the congregation – and I had still been left out. I don’t know how it happened; it’s probably every good teacher’s nightmare. They hastened to bring me up front with the other kids as soon as they realized what was going on. But of course what it confirmed in me was that I didn’t belong.
My journey as an adult has been along the twisty, narrow road between my head and my soul. In the course of my healing, I have swept up the reins of my life and become one who loves rather than one who desperately seeks love. It has meant fully embracing my awkwardness and social failures, and using all of me as a tool in the service of love.
The language of my soul is Christian. I have always known I belong to Christ, even when my head has told me differently. God has taken many shapes: grandmother, diamond, witch, sage, ocean, light, and utter darkness and emptiness, to name a few. But always there is that incarnating, dying and resurrecting aspect, that Christ.
That dying and resurrecting being, that Christ, dwells in me and knows me completely. And even if I don’t understand the words, I know his voice. I know the path through pain and utter hopelessness into emptiness and then into the new light. I belong to this path, to him.
I cannot be snatched out of Christ’s hand. No matter what I do or don’t do – no matter what my behavior or belief – I belong to Christ. It’s just so. I can get skeptical and renounce my faith; I can get on my high-horse and think I know everything; I can ignore the important tasks and embrace trivia; I can hurt somebody terribly or wrong them grievously; and yet I still belong to Christ. He is the shepherd whose voice I follow. He is the Way.
This understanding doesn’t by itself make me brave. Dwelling in the awareness of what is in my soul is what makes a difference in my day to day life. Knowing that death cannot hurt me, that no ostracization really matters, that I am a sheep who has been given the gift of eternal life – that’s what changes my behavior.
So, may I find ways of reminding myself of my belonging. May I ask for forgiveness when I forget. And may you do the same. That is my prayer to the Good Shepherd today. Amen.