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The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

There’s a couple in our community who lost their precious baby girl when she was only weeks old. They knew this was likely; their daughter’s rare heart condition was discovered in utero, and the odds were against her. These parents prayed and consulted medical professionals and ultimately decided that the mom would have a C-section in the children’s hospital in order to give their daughter her best shot at life. If anything went wrong with the C-section, the mom would have to be wheeled to another area of the hospital to be operated on - there was a chance she could die. She felt God’s peace about this, believing that this was the way He wanted things to be done. This mom risked her life in exchange for the slight possibility that her baby might live.

I am reminded of the Good Shepherd as I consider this couple’s story: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, sent Himself on our behalf. He gave up everything sacrificially and willingly: Jesus declares in John 10:18, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” He did not forsake His flock but rather protected them, paying the highest cost in order to do so. W. Phillip Keller puts it this way in A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23: “The laid-down life, the poured-out blood were the supreme symbols of total selflessness. This was love. This was God. This was divinity in action, delivering men from their own utter selfishness, their own stupidity, their own suicidal instincts as lost sheep unable to help themselves” (98-99).

On a much smaller scale, we know what it is to sacrifice in motherhood. Many of us have shared our bodies for a time, carrying and sustaining life within our wombs. We have shed blood, sweat, and tears - literally. We have been denied sleep, offered our time on the altar, and given up dreams for the sake of our children. We have forgone indulgences, but also necessities, because we love these little ones that the Father has entrusted to our care.

And I would like to tell you that I make all of these sacrifices willingly, lovingly, and humbly (just as Jesus did, although my sacrifices are microscopic compared to His). But many times, I struggle to sacrifice well. I swallow the sacrifices of my season begrudgingly, with grumbling and bitterness bubbling to the surface of my heart.

The sacrifices of motherhood present us with an opportunity: we can become bitter moms or better ones. We can be sucked into selfishness or to lean into the sufficiency of the Good Shepherd as we make the sacrifices required of us. And however big or small our sacrifices are, they offer us an opportunity to mirror the sacrifice of the Good Shepherd to our children, laying down our lives for them. It’s like Justin Whitmel Earley puts it in Habits of the Household (currently one of my favorite parenting books): “ Jesus took the pain so that we don’t have to, so we take the pain so our children don’t have to. The story of the gospel is not just our greatest hope in life and death, it is also the best paradigm for parenting. We don’t sacrifice our kids’ formation so that we can have an easier life. We sacrifice the ease of our life so that our kids can have biblical formation” (98). (this quote was in the context of a screen time conversation: are we willing to minimize screen time in our homes, even though it will cost us time, energy, breaks, etc.?)

I so often feel frustrated with the sacrifices required of me because I am selfish and I don’t want to “take the pain” for my kids. In the cravings of my flesh, I want my life and motherhood journey to be as easy as possible. But we must look at the Good Shepherd and remind ourselves: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Jesus is calling us to lay down ourselves for these little “friends” that He has placed in our homes. He is calling us to lay down our comfort and desires out of love, sacrificing ourselves to disciple our children and point them to Jesus (and in the process, we will be formed and into His image and come to know Him more as well).

Preceding John 10:11 (“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”) comes this beautiful gem of a verse: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus’ sacrifice was an undeserved exchange: His life traded for ours, so that we could experience life TO THE FULL. May the Good Shepherd’s sacrifice not be wasted on us: may we remember all that He gave on our behalf, and may this move us to make the sacrifices of motherhood in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). And may you experience the life abundant that Jesus wants to give you this week!

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