When the Wolf Comes
You will never know your true measure until the wolf comes.
Some 24.7 million kids will go to sleep tonight in a home without their biological father. One-third are being raised by a single mother. Another 10-20 percent are raised by their grandparents. The U.S. Department of Education says that 39 percent of students, first through 12th grade, are fatherless.
The statistics are frightening: fatherless kids are four times more likely to live in poverty; three times more apt to have behavioral problems; four times more probable to end up in prison; seven times more likely to get pregnant as teens; ten times more apt to experience neglect and abuse; and twice as prone to drop out of school. These kids make up 90 percent of all runaways. In the twenty-five most cited school shootings since Columbine, 75 percent of the shooters came from a broken home.
This crisis dwarfs COVID-19 and almost every other catastrophe facing us today. Family is the first institution created by God. It is the glue that holds everything else together. History proves that when families disintegrate, societies collapse into anarchy. Why do 59 percent of U.S. couples live together rather than get married? Why do 40 percent of marriages end in divorce? Why are there so many walkaway dads? Why are too many grandparents consumed with pursuing pleasure instead of investing their last years in the lives of kids who will inherit the future? Why are people so quick to bail out of commitments, careers, and churches, when the going gets tough?
Jesus had the best answer to these questions. He had just restored the sight of a man who had been blind since birth. But he performed his miracle on the Jewish Sabbath. Instead of rejoicing that one of their flock was delivered from blindness, the religious leaders kicked the healed beggar out of the synagogue. These bigoted clergy considered themselves shepherds of God’s people.
But Jesus knew better. So, he told the story of the good shepherd and the hired hand. Of course, he is the good shepherd in his story. The shepherd is a metaphor well known to ancient Jews. They were a pastoral people. Almost everyone had a flock of sheep. Sheep provided food, clothing, and sacrifices for the Temple. They were a precious commodity. But sheep are also timid, fearful, and easily panicked. They are dumb, stupid, gullible, and helpless in the face of predators.
That’s why sheep need shepherds to guide, nurture and protect them. Sheep cannot survive or thrive without shepherds. Neither can our children, families, churches, communities, or nations. Husbands, parents, grandparents, pastors, bosses, friends, and civic leaders are called by God to shepherd their flocks. Jesus says that good shepherds will even lay down their lives for those under their care.
He also talks about hired hands. They don’t love the sheep. To them, shepherding is a temporary job. Hired hands are in it for the payoff. At the most basic level, the payoff is the paycheck. But, when it comes to shepherding people, the payoff can come in many forms: power, pleasure, position, titles, accolades, affirmation, applause, self-satisfaction, security, or anything else that makes you feel better about yourself. Too many shepherds are really hired hands.
But, how do you know what you are? Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” [John 10:11] He continues, “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. When he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” [John 10:12&13]
You will never know whether you are a true shepherd until the wolf comes. The wolf attacks in many ways: financial difficulties, marital conflicts, strong-willed children, the lure of greener pastures, a partner whose health collapses, a teen who rebels, a mid-life crisis, the heaviness of carrying the load for too long, spiritual dryness, physical erosion, a growing restlessness, or an obsession to be free to focus on your own needs. The wolf is always lurking near the flock. He attacks often and usually in packs. Like all predators, he knows when you and your flock are most vulnerable.
Again, you will never know the true measure of your commitment until the wolf comes. The wolf separates hired hands from true shepherds. When the wolf comes, the shepherd finds solutions. The hired hand looks for the best escape route. The coming of the wolf proves whether or not you really love your spouse, your children, your family, friends, church, neighbors, or country. So, rejoice in those tough times. They prove your mettle and sincerity. True shepherds stay the course, persevere, fight the good fight, and even lay down their lives for those given to their care.
As grandparents, we can say that we have already put in our time raising our children. We can bail out on our grandchildren as we pursue peace, pleasure and the lure of the so-called golden years. But we are called to spend our years doing what Jesus did when he was here: to be good shepherds by laying down our lives for our kids and grandkids; not as hired hands, trying to eke out whatever payoff might be left for the grasping.
As for me, I’m never going to retire from shepherding. I’m asking for Holy Spirit power to re-fire, especially when it comes to my precious grandkid lambs, Mae and Mira. I’ve also founded Legacy Imperative to help millions of other grandparents to do the same. So, come on wolves! Jesus and I are more than ready for you!
Dr. Bob Petterson