He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. Psalm 23:2
He makes me lie down... After two nights up, what bliss! It is a very different matter if I am struck down by a virus, a heart attack or a lorry. Surely, he did not do this? Patients sometimes say to us that they can have no faith in God who allows such disasters, even if he did not engineer them. Is this my reaction, too?
A long train journey recently gave opportunity to look at hundreds of sheep over a period of hours. By far the majority were on their feet, foraging for good, constantly on the move. Those lying down were chewing the cud or watching and feeding their lambs. These tended to be in the meadows, not on the mountain sides, where the search for fodder seemed endless. Sheep are too nervous to drink from rushing streams and need quiet waters for refreshment. For David, the shepherd, the intended analogy must have been that of satiation, rumination and recreation, all shown by sheep at rest. The spiritual parallels could be a cessation of other activities to enjoy the sense of the Shepherd's ample provision for us, spending time with him and with others to mull over hid goodness and guidance. To hand on to the next generation the distillation of the good things that he has provided in turn strengthens them and encourages their growth. The picture may simply convey times of relaxation enjoying tranquil reflection or, for the young in heart, more frolicsome activities.
Yet it may be that for some the Shepherd has to `make' them lie down -- to put them either temporarily or permanently `out to grass' -- if, in the full spate of a busy life, this need is ignored. It is possible to act out our own need to be needed by keeping up ceaseless activity while fondly assuming that we are following his lead. Certainly, when on earth, our Lord went about doing good, with hectic days and prayerful nights, having compassion on those who seemed to harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. We can easily overlook the fact that this pattern applied only to the last three years of his life and to a very small part of the world. He had to accept physical and geographical limitations and so must we. Among all the acts of healing, he must have taken many long walks with his disciples and many al fresco conversations and meals. It was not all `go'. Many of us feel terribly guilty about taking a break, using up all our annual leave or enjoying a relaxing hobby. The Shepherd actually encourages times of peace and quiet. Better to follow his lead voluntarily than be forced by illness or accident, sometimes self-imposed, to step aside.
Come ye yourselves apart and rest awhile,
Weary, I know it, of the press and throng;
Wipe from your brow the sweat and dust of toil,
And in my quiet strength again be strong.
E H Bickersteth
Further reading: Mt 11:28-30. Mk 6:30-32. Ps 37:1-7.