An Epistle to the Shepherd

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Thank you. Thank you for taking seriously our call to love one another.  Thank you for the ways you have tried to make God’s love tangible to people around you.  Thank you for showing up.  Thank you for being present.  Thank you for the notes you have written and the meals you have cooked.  Thank you for the calls you have made and the texts you have sent.  Thank you for stopping by.  Thank you for rolling up your sleeves.  Thank you for wearing out your knees in prayer.  Every time you have done these things, not only have you done them for Christ (Matthew 25:40) but you have allowed someone to experience the Jesus that makes calls, writes letters and cooks meals.  You have shown them the Jesus that shows up.  You have allowed the Presence of God to be present through you.  That is no small thing.

I imagine sometimes you get weary, no matter how many times you try to remind yourself to not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).  To be weary is to be human.  We live in a world that is abundant with need.  We have no shortage of causes that you can take up.  As a caregiver, you come face to face with some of the deepest pain and the darkest nights.  You hold things that are too heavy.  You bear witness to things that are too ugly.  It is wearying.  

I would be remiss not to remind you that it is ok to rest.  It is ok to take a minute to breathe in beauty again.  It is ok to need care as much as you give care sometimes.  In fact, sometimes the best care we can give is to allow someone else to care for us.  Sometimes to receive is better than to give because it elevates the other as we humbly admit that they have something to offer us too. 

I want you to know that as you serve on the frontlines of people’s stories, my heart is full of hope for you.  I am praying that our God would equip you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).  I am asking Him to nurture within you certain values and practices that will continue to allow your care for others to look more and more like His care for you.

I am praying that you will cultivate empathy even when you think you already have it.  When someone’s story bears resemblance to our own, it doesn’t take too much work to see their perspective, but when their experiences and values differ vastly from what we know, empathy can be harder to come by.  Empathy requires us to actively listen to what someone else is saying, not just with their words but with their actions and facial expressions and body language.  I can only imagine the impact we can have as we continually learn to enter into the pain of those around us and begin to feel just how heavy that pain is to carry around.  Empathy is what informs our care.  Sometimes it leads us to grieve and lament alongside another, which is often the most loving and care-filled thing we could do.  Sometimes it leads us to advocate or empower or connect, but whatever it leads us to, it is always good.

I am also praying that you will question guilt.  Guilt can be helpful when it looks more like conviction.  Sometimes, God lovingly corrects us.  Sometimes he helps us see the hurt we cause so that we can take responsibility and make it right.   However, guilt becomes something more harmful than helpful when it begins to get tangled up with shame.  That kind of guilt does not provide any way out.  Shame is debilitating and demotivating.  Shame traps us in a prison of our own perceived worthlessness. I do not believe God employs shame or humiliation.  If God is patiently inviting you to shift or change or lament or repent, I pray that you will trust Him and walk with Him into that freedom that He has for you.  It won’t be easy, but it will be beautiful.  If, on the other hand, you find yourself trapped in guilt that makes you feel like you are not worthy of connection, I pray that you will push back and reject it every time, even if the Enemy has deceitfully wrapped it in things that seem true.  

My prayer for you is also that you will embrace discomfort. Sometimes caring is easy.  Sometimes it seems to flow out naturally and seamlessly.  We don’t really have to think about it or find motivation for it.  We see a need or a problem and we know exactly what to do.  We are driven to act because we care so deeply about whatever or whoever it is.  Sometimes though, caring does not come so naturally.  Sometimes we are apathetic or we aren’t paying attention.  Sometimes we are overwhelmed and do not know what to do or what would help.  Sometimes we can’t see what the problem or need is, or perhaps we even disagree about what the problem or need is.  Caring is not always comfortable or effortless.  Sometimes we are asked to care about things it would be easier not to think about.  Sometimes we are asked to care for people we disagree with and maybe we don’t even like.  Sometimes caring is complicated and messy.  Sometimes caring costs us something.

Another prayer I have for you is that God will teach you to abandon your agenda.  We mean well, but sometimes we come across as giving to get something.  We love someone in hopes that it will help them believe or behave better.  Maybe they will be more likely to agree with us if we act kindly and lovingly toward them.  Maybe caring for them will help them see the error of their ways.  What if instead of using care as a tool to convert or convince, our end goal was simply to bring more of the things of Heaven into someone’s world; more love, more beauty, more grace, more connection, more peace, more joy.  There are people sitting in the pews with us, let alone across the street, who long to be seen and cared for and loved but are not sure they ever will be because they don’t fit the proper church mold.

I also deeply desire that you will build genuine connections.  I am praying that you will truly get to know people you offer care to and that you will allow them to know and care for you.  I am praying that their lives will affect you and become part of you.  I am praying that you will know each other’s sorrows and celebrations.  I long for you to know their kid’s names and for your kids to know their names.  I am praying it will be people who have made you somewhat uncomfortable, people whose perspectives took more work to see.  I am praying that over time they will become people who sit at the table with you and laugh with you and shed tears with you even if they never fully agree with you.

Finally, I pray that you will continue to heed the Spirit.  The kind of care I have been describing is more deep than it is wide.  There is certainly a place for widespread care for our world that keeps more to the surface.  However, there is an extensive need in people for a care that sinks down into their lives.  Knowing when and how to engage in these ways takes discernment.  It takes us walking with the Spirit to hear His call to join Him in the work He is doing in the lives of people.  My guess is that His leading will not always be painless.  It will take intentionality and vulnerability and grit at times, but it will always sound more like invitation than it does like anything else.

Men and women of College Wesleyan Church, may you be people who are known for your love (John 13:35). May your love be patient. May your love be kind.  May it not brag about how loving it is.  May it not be too proud to learn from the person it is serving.  May your love be honoring to every embodied person it encounters, never forcing itself on another.  May it not seek self, but rather may its anger be slow and for the sake of the other.  May your love not keep track of the wrong doings of the person you are loving.  May it rejoice about goodness and beauty and truth and never about injustice or malice or deceit.  May your love protect him.  May your love trust her.  May your love have hope when it seems all hope is gone. May your love NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give up and may it never fail to be loving! (1 Corinthians 13)

For reflection…

Are there any thoughts or beliefs or feelings or agendas I have that are getting in the way of me loving or empathizing well?

Who am I feeling a need to care for?  Does it feel more like shame that is weighing on my heart or does it feel like an invitation to take a risk and join what God is up to?

Who do I want to have sitting at my table a year from now that has not been a part of my circle of care up to now?

In what ways am I humbly receiving care and vulnerably allowing people to know me?

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Picture of Angela Grandlienard

Angela Grandlienard

Angie is a licensed mental health counselor, working to build restorative counseling relationships and create experiences that can bring healing and hope. She has her own practice in Fairmount, IN called In The Midst Counseling Services. Outside of her role as counselor she is passionate about continually developing healthy relationships with God, with her husband, Jason, with her kids, and with her community.

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