Looking for direction, ask the Shepherd

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2008

Hiking down Thunder Mountain in late September, it was misty and getting dark. My fiancé turned to me and said, "This doesn't look like the trail we went up." I agreed.

We had parked the car off Glacier Highway and started out on a beautiful sunny morning. Part way up it began to snow, but the sun reappeared and we had breathtaking views of the Mendenhall Glacier. We'd stayed a bit longer than we should, considering the decreasing daylight of autumn. Now we knew we were on a different path but figured that since it was a trail we wouldn't get lost.

Eventually, we crossed a stream and couldn't see which way to go. We thought we'd just follow the stream because water runs downhill, right? The stream turned into a swamp and we found ourselves in increasingly deep water and mud, having a hard time going forward. At that point, my fiancé said, "Well, there is only one thing to do." I asked, "What?" He said, "Sing 'Shepherd, show me how to go ... .'" He was referring to a hymn we both knew written by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science.

The hymn begins as follows: "Shepherd, show me how to go / O'er the hillside steep," and continues, "I will listen for Thy voice, / Lest my footsteps stray; / I will follow and rejoice / All the rugged way."

There are three verses and we sang them all, standing in the swamp. When we turned around we saw a light, then more lights, and we quickly headed toward them. They were house lights and we were at the foot of the mountain in the Mendenhall Valley. We walked to a friend's house and she took us back to our car. We still laugh about being "lost" on Thunder Mountain, but as I look back on the experience I find it instructive.

How often in life have we started down a path that WE were sure was the right one for us, only to lose our way, muck around in the swamp, and finally, as a last resort, ask God, our loving Shepherd, to guide us? And He does!

I remember the year after my divorce. I had arranged to teach a three-week summer class in Homer. Following that, I was going to Portland to begin graduate school. The Homer class was cancelled. My application and letter for school got strangely "lost" on a professor's desk, and I was frustrated because my summer plans were not working out. At the same time there was a guy from church who was being very nice to me, helping me with house repairs and my boat. I knew I was not interested in another relationship so I was secretly wishing he'd go away. At the same time I appreciated the help I was getting.

All my life I have found prayer to be an effective means of solving problems. Some of the ways I have experienced God's love and care for me are in the healing of physical problems, in finding suitable employment, in resolving relationship conflicts, and in guiding my career. So it was natural for me to go to God who I think of as my Father-Mother, my Shepherd, and my best Friend, and ask "What should be my plans for the summer?" I also humbly agreed that "Thy will be done." Shortly thereafter it was as though a veil was lifted from my eyes and I realized how terrific the guy from church was. We spent that summer getting to know each other better, and praying together regarding our future. We were married that December.

He moved into my house and we figured that we'd stay there for a few years. That was our plan. The Shepherd obviously had a different one. In January, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting, but it meant getting a substitute teacher for my classroom which I didn't like to do. After praying, I felt directed to attend, and at the meeting I learned of a house that was for sale in a desirable location. Something clicked and I thought, "This is why I came to the meeting." We contacted the broker and within 2 months we had sold our house and moved into the new one. How grateful I was that I had followed the Shepherd's guiding!

In the 10 years since, I have had many opportunities to listen to the Shepherd and follow His direction. It has saved me from wallowing in the mud of mere human outlining. I highly recommend consulting the wisdom of the Shepherd in all of life's decisions. The promise of Psalm 23 is available to all: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want...Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

• Beverly Smith is a member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Juneau.

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