David wrote an ancient poem describing his Heavenly Father in terms of a Shepherd. I recently read this psalm and I noticed the action words that David attributed to his Shepherd Father. The Shepherd in this psalm “makes” His sheep rest in nurturing places. He “leads” them in safe places, “restores” them, and “guides” them in ways that bring honor to the family name and reputation. The Shepherd “is with” His sheep, “comforting” them, “preparing” their environment for optimal growth, and “protecting” them from pests and parasites that might burrow into their head. This Shepherd actively pursues the benefit of His sheep. He takes a lot of positive steps to assure His sheep are safe and healthy.
David does include two negatives in this psalm–both describe the sheep’s life, not the Shepherd’s actions. Specifically, the sheep will have “no want.” They will lack nothing because of the provisions made by the Shepherd for their emotional, physical, and mental health. And, the sheep will “fear no evil.” They do not have to fear the dangers, anxieties, and sufferings of the world because the Shepherd lovingly protects, provides, and disciplines them.
Perhaps we, as family shepherds (parents), can learn a lesson from the Shepherd Father described by David. Parenting is a fast-paced job that demands endless effort. We can easily get caught up in constantly telling our children “no,” “not now,” “stay away from…” or “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” We simply want to protect our children from the dangers “out there.” However, the constant focus on “no” and what “not to do” without offering positive alternatives invites rebellion. Constantly giving passive commands to “stop” that without actively become involved in teaching alternative behaviors leaves children with little to no knowledge of how to change…no knowledge of the positive behaviors we desire. Their minds get stuck on what they cannot have and then ruminate on ways to get it.
Instead, parents can practice “The Good Shepherd Rule.” “The Good Shepherd Rule” demands action. It invites us to actively pursue our children’s benefit and take positive steps to assure our children’s safety and health. This rule focuses on the action words found in David’s description of his Shepherd Father. Specifically, “The Good Shepherd Rule” begins when we “make” our family identify and “rest in” the positive, nurturing behaviors we desire. Then, we “lead” them toward the desired behaviors, “guide” them in the desired behaviors, and “prepare” the environment to promote the desired behaviors. We may even engage in the positive behavior “with them” for a time, helping them learn how to do it well. “The Good Shepherd Rule” also states that we discipline misbehavior to provide “protection” and, afterwards, quickly “restore” our relationship with them to provide them the “comfort” of knowing we love and accept them unconditionally.
Children and families experience many positive results when practicing “The Good Shepherd Rule.” The Psalmist notes that the Shepherd’s sheep find that their “cup overflows.” In addition, “goodness and lovingkindness” follow them throughout their life. Even those around them can enjoy riding the wake of the goodness and lovingkindness that trails behind them as they move through the world. Those who have experienced this kind of loving nurturance will “dwell” in the house of their Shepherd forever. Isn’t that what we want for our children? We want them to mature and find that “their cup overflows” with “goodness and lovingkindness,” to find their lives filled with “goodness and lovingkindness” in such abundance that it overflows to all those they meet. We want them to remain involved in our lives so we can enjoy one another’s support, encouragement, and love; celebrate one another’s successes; and comfort one another in times of disappointment. Ultimately we want them to live a life of goodness in the world and throughout eternity. As parents, we can help make this possible by practicing “The Good Shepherd Rule”: “nurture,” “lead,” “restore,” “guide,” “go with,” “comfort,” “prepare,” and “protect” our children.