the stranger (who’s a little too familiar) & the shepherd

kathyescobar identity, spiritual formation, the carnival in my head 21 Comments

shepherd or stranger

**this post is part of the september synchroblog, a diverse group of bloggers writing on the same topic.  this month’s is called “the devil made me do it” and is centered on “what are some weird, wacky or just plain different things you’ve heard taught about Satan?  what do you think of those ideas? how have they shaped your perspective (or not) about Jesus?”  i’ll add links to other bloggers’ posts once they come in today so you can read some different pieces.

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there are a few things that i want to get out of the way from the start–i believe there is a spiritual battle for people”s hearts being waged here on earth.  i believe there are forces working against people feeling love, hope, connection, peace, and freedom.  i believe God’s heart and desire for us is to experience life this side of heaven.  i believe that when Jesus said “i came that you might have life and have it to the full” that he was calling us all into a deep and free-ing story, deeper and more freeing than we even know.  i also believe there’s a “stranger” who’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy us, bent on robbing humans of life.

and i also believe that for some, the “stranger”–the enemy, the evil one, Satan, the devil, whatever you want to call it–is not a stranger at all but actually the more familiar voice that we hear.

in john 10, Jesus says that the sheep know my voice and they follow me.  they won’t run off with the stranger because they do not recognize his voice.  but the truth is that for many of us, the stranger’s voice is what we follow, thinking it is God’s.  those who were raised in systems that used a lot of condemnation and fear in their teaching and practices know what i’m talking about.  we hear in our heads often “you’re not this enough or that enough.  if you really believed, then you’d be here instead of there.   God hates….  God won’t listen to you unless you are pure before him.  God is tired of you never getting it right.  if you’d just get yourself right before God then everything wouldn’t be so hard. pray harder. try harder. do more. get it right.” 

for me, not being raised in an overtly christian home or going to church as a kid, i didn’t really have a lot of God baggage before i entered church. from an early age i was strangely drawn to Jesus and his power and healing after reading about him in a little white Bible someone gave me.  then, after experiencing a lot of shame from things done to me & things i did, i did turn to God and church in a more intentional way to help me.  i cried out to God for forgiveness, for help, for healing.  the voice that i often heard back was not the voice of love but the voice of condemnation.  i do not believe that was God’s voice.  i believe it was the “stranger’s” voice trying to become the more familiar one in my life.  the one i’d follow.  the one i’d listen to.  the one i’d leave the green pastures for.

i spent a lot of years thinking that voice was God’s and that somehow God was constantly mad at me for never being holy enough, pure enough, or whatever enough. i didn’t really know what God’s real voice sounded like.

then, i started into a more intentional healing journey to get free of some of the crazy shame baggage i was carrying.  during this process i started to hear a different voice–a voice of love and hope and freedom.  a voice that brought life instead of death and peace instead of despair.  i realized that for so long i was always running off with the stranger, thinking it was God.

my friend and co-author of come with me, elaine hamilton & i developed this chart for the material that helps discern the difference between the condemnation of the evil one (the stranger) and the conviction of the holy spirit (the shepherd).

it can be really helpful when we’re learning to strain to follow the shepherd instead of that oh-too-familiar stranger. in reflecting on this today i look at the “stranger” side and think how familiar these voices used to be & how i could go to church, be in countless Bible studies, and not really know the shepherd’s voice.

that’s messed up!

i know some people in church like to spend a lot of energy focusing on satan and spiritual warfare and the battle being waged against us.  i’m not dismissing its importance. i see it up close and personal all the time, my dear-friends-on-the-journey-who-only-hear-an-ugly-brutal-voice-in-their-head-telling-them-they’re-worth-nothing.  my hope, though, is that instead of spending a lot of energy yelling at the stranger to leave us alone that maybe we need to spend more of our time & practices helping people learn to hear the shepherd’s voice more clearly so it becomes far more familiar.

i’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this.

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other bloggers participating, check out their posts: