There is a story about a sheep who lived within a flock. All day long, all he could hear was bleat, bleat, bleat as they all went about doing the same things over and over again. Restless to break out of this fenced in existence of predictability, one that was strife with rules and known expectations, he longed to runaway. No longer did he see the other sheep as individuals with unique personalities. They all blended in together, faceless and wholly. It was like he became blind to their gifts.
He was also numb to their desire to connect with him through love. Their bleats began to mean nothing. Bit by bit, the lens he was looking through painted a distant picture of all of them grazing together on the other side of the field. In his tiny brain, he interpreted this view as rejection. They had rejected him, rather than the reality of the situation. He had rejected them. But, it was too late. He began to believe that he was a misfit. He didn't fit within the flock. His fenced in area did not feel like Home. In turn, as a way to protect himself, he started to question everything he had been taught, and dismissed it all as mere fluff.
One day, as he wandered around the perimeter feeling sorry for himself, he found a hole in the fence. He climbed through it and found himself surrounded by new fields to explore. For the first time in his life, he was able to experience open spaces independent of the flock and he made the best of his newly found freedom. For a while the sheep felt such exhilaration while he took advantage of living outside of the fence. He romped when he wanted to, slept when he wanted to, ate when he wanted to. Never again, he thought, will I have to justify my actions, nor my thoughts. I can believe what I want to, live how I want to and not be questioned by a bunch of bleating idiots.
Day turned into night...... night turned into day........ time passed, and he continued to enjoy himself. However, he realized that he had no one to share it with. He had no one to talk to about it. This began to weigh heavily on him. For as much as he loved his independence, he also felt the unease of not being connected to his flock. His sense of belonging dried up along with the sense of being loved. Loneliness crept in especially at night, when he realized that his total freedom did not include any sense of home. Home, where he was loved and cared for. Home, where he was a member.
Though he felt like he needed all of those things.......... freedom, love, belonging, fun his new life was not conducive to this. It made him cry.... big sheepy tears.
It also took his appetite away. He didn't have the energy to eat or to take care of himself. Lethargy coursed through his body and soon he felt too weak to enjoy his freedom. Given this was all that he had been focused on for so long....... given that this was his dream, the reality of his situation and of his unrelenting need to share his new experiences with others made him feel like such a failure. He turned his back on his flock, dismissed them as useless bleaters and now he was alone and slowly dying. What he wanted for himself for so long dried up in a mushroom cloud full of doubt and despair. With shame from failure in his heart, he lay down under a large maple tree and gave up.
Little did the sheep know, but his flock had not stopped caring. Even though he made it perfectly clear how he felt, they worried about him, and prayed for his return. The Shepherd too hadn't forgotten about him either and whenever he could, he went searching for his lost little one. On the day the sheep lay down in surrender, the Shepherd caught sight of him just in time.
Shocked by how thin and scruffy his little one looked, the Shephard's heart felt such pain and relief at the same time. Quietly, he approached the sleeping sheep and slipped his strong arms under his shaggy coat. He lifted the sheep up into his arms, all the while whispering to him how much he had been missed and how much he was loved. From the distance of deep slumber, the little sheep opened his eyes and looked into the eyes of the man who had for so long looked after him. A full smile melted the sheep's worn out body as he slipped into the most relaxing sleep he had ever known.
When they returned to the fenced in area, the flock rushed over with relief to tend to their lost one. For days, they looked after him....... made sure he had food and water, but more importantly made sure to let him know how much he was missed.... how much he was loved. In no time the adventurous sheep gained his strength back. He was able to reflect on his travels and on what he had learned. His appreciation for his fellow sheep grew and grew as he realized how deeply he had missed them...... how he had missed being a member of a flock.
What amazed the once restless Sheep was the fact that they had always accepted him for who he was, even when he had dismissed them as unknowing and stupid. They knew he needed to travel beyond the fence to learn for himself some of life's biggest lessons. So did the Shepherd. For he was the one who cut the hole in the fence in the first place. And he is the one who ensures the hole remains to this day.
There is a stubbornness inherent in our desire for independence. It provides nourishment to push through the burdensome trappings of all those rules which we are taught to obey..... to abide by. It blinds us too and gives us false approval and security to negate what is proper behaviour. Our determination to step outside of the lessons we are taught, the values and beliefs we are fed, the "life" we are supposed to lead, moves us to a place where we become irresponsible in the eyes of the ones who love us unconditionally. Do we all experience this in our life journey? Can it be any other way?
Its not that we want to hurt others. Its just that we need to figure it out for ourselves. So, we drift. We wander both internally and externally. We question everything. We attempt to fulfill our fantasies. We take risks while trying not to see the consequences. We act like children........ emotionally heightened by our stubborn desire to learn about life and faith and right and wrong in our own way. We become selfishly distant, obsessed by our own ego driven needs as we taste as much elixir as we can consume.
It can last a long, long time. Running away can even last a lifetime if we continue to avoid rest, and reflection. If we become addicted to the dark side of freedom, we never lift our heads up to open our eyes to see the destruction, or to recognize the lessons we had originally forged out to learn. On our own. In a blaze of stubborn determination. Lost and never found. Illusions are enticing bedfellows.
And when life doesn't go as we had expected it to, or we bang up against nasty stormfronts and personal failure what do we do? We feel pain. Automatically we blame God. We act out in anger and turn our energy outward with fists in the air. We stomp our feet and shout out loud..... Unfair! How can I believe in You who would let me down, make me suffer, let me runaway?
Amazing how quickly we forget the greatest gift God gave us..... free will.... the autonomy to choose how we live within freedom. God cut the hole in the fence to begin with, and it remains to this day.
So, what does all this mean? I'm still chewing on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And I may continue until all the sheep come home. :)