Recently, a friend told me he did some research on how shepherds teach their sheep to stop wandering away. He read that shepherds break the legs of the straying sheep. During the healing process, the sheep stays very close to the shepherd and in this way learns to recognize the shepherd’s voice and not roam again.
Now, my friend is a very smart man. When it comes to the spiritual life, I sit up and take notice of what he says, especially when he’s preaching from the pulpit. He’s no slouch when it comes to the Catholic faith. But, like doubting Thomas, I needed to see it for myself.
I did my own Google search and found two different opinions. Some sites said that a good shepherd would never break the legs of wayward sheep. Other sites verified what my friend said. Some sites that had a religious theme expressed disbelief that God would be so awful as to “break our legs” to “force” us to blindly stay with him. Other sites said that God does this all the time by way of suffering and hardship.
Hmmm………….I figured I had to look further to find the answer.
Sticking with the “keep it simple, stupid” principle, I turned to a saint who lived and wrote very simply: my patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux. More specifically, I looked up something taken from her writings that I had scribbled into a blank page at the front of my Breviary.
“Everything is a direct effect of our Father’s love…difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens……her needs…..everything, because through them she learns humility and realizes her weakness. Everything is grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events….to the heart that loves, all is well.”
St. Therese certainly had her share of trials and suffering but through everything she never lost sight of God, never wandered away. Through all her difficulties and burdens, she listened to His voice and learned to love more and more. Did God break her legs, so to speak? I guess you could say that, although she could have chosen to listen to His voice or she could have chosen to turn away. I’m sure that even an actual sheep that has its legs broken could go off again once its legs healed.
So, where am I going with this?
I think God allows humiliations, contradictions, suffering in our life, but He gives us the grace to bear them. He also gives us free will. It’s up to me how I respond to the burdens He sends.
Do I respond by praying for more and more grace so that I can accept trials with humility and love or do I turn my back on God and go my own way? Do I recognize my weakness and realize that I am nothing without God or do I believe I’m in control? Do I stay close to the shepherd or do I continue to roam?
St. Augustine said, “God who made you without your help cannot save you without your help.” The choice is up to me.