Today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 18:12-14) talks about Jesus the Good Shepard leaving his 99 sheep to go search for the one who wandered off. Every time I hear this metaphor I think about how I’ve been that hundredth sheep. I’ve been the one who had idols (consumerism, food, alcohol, roller derby, and various other things that could get me into a lot of trouble) that I put before God. I had this void, this sadness, this darkness that I wanted to fill. I went away searching for something to enlighten this dark place inside me, to fill the empty space in my heart, but all I found was more darkness. Sure, it was great temporarily to numb out with alcohol, or fill my day with everything other than prayer. But it was always temporary. I’d always end up sad, lonely, and hungry for more.
Most people tend to have their major turnarounds when they’ve been at their lowest. John the Baptist was baptizing people in the desert. Just think about that for a second – amid a desert where there is so little, he found a river to baptize the grungiest most unsavory people of society.
My lowest point was laying in bed praying that God would take me home, that I wouldn’t wake up. Have you ever prayed to God to die? Let me tell you, God answers prayers, but rarely in the way you hope them to be. Shortly after those prayers something inside me clicked, and I knew that I couldn’t live like that anymore. The Good Shepherd was out to find me, and bring me home.
But I didn’t go calmly. Like a real sheep (not the kind pictured in all those paintings), I fought him. I started to turn my life around, but I still had my idols. I still numbed out either with alcohol, excessive this, that, or the other; anything to keep my mind off of that pain inside. As usual, after I all the self-medicating wore off I felt like I was missing something.
This Advent season I started to read Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst. It’s a book addressing emotional eating, but really it addresses how we try to fill that God sized hole in our hearts with anything but God. Angry? Pray on it. Stressed? Give it to God. Lonely? Talk to the Lord. You know what? It’s been the best thing for me. I finally starting to feel like I’m not resisting my Savior, my Good Shepherd, the one who is answering my prayer by getting through my head and into my heart that He is the only way I can ever be fulfilled.
Verse 13 states, “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.” Truthfully, I am more grateful than any of those 99 could ever be because I know what it’s like to be away from Him.