The reporter interviewed the Middle Eastern shepherd about his vocation, but I lost track of the main point of the story. All I could focus on was the lamb the shepherd held on his hip. The lamb's legs dangled down toward the shepherd's knees, the creature perfectly relaxed, its eyes at half-mast--drowsy, peaceful. The shepherd continued to speak with the reporter, but never loosened his grip on the vulnerable, white-faced lamb. In that dusty, hostile terrain, I noted the sweetness of the shepherd's embrace, the lamb's silent trust.
The shepherd interview made me think of a recent interaction. I received a phone call from a woman I'd not heard from in months. We used to work together and occasionally went out to lunch. She'd moved on to another job. Our lunches were often sprinkled with converstation about our faith in God. I was honestly surprised to hear from her and even more startled at her direct question after our pleasantries. "Priscilla, what would you say is the most important aspect in your relationship with God?"
"I'm curious why you're asking?"
"I'm not sure, really. I think maybe because whenever we were together you often spoke about the importance of grace. I'm not sure I understand grace. You came to mind. I know we've not spoken for a while. Sorry if I'm catching you off guard."
"Honestly, I'm getting better at receiving," I finally said. I'm getting more skilled in placing myself in the flow of His peace, allowing myself to be held and comforted. Not fretting. Not anxious. Opening my hands to receive from Him." More and more I experienced the ease of allowing God to hold me, guide me. I was getting better at trusting, and ironically, that was in large part because I was counting less on my own self-effort. Increasingly I used my exertion to stay close to Him, to remain by His side.
"You mean that you believe receiving is more important than giving in your relationship with God?" I heard incredulity in her question.
"No. Receiving is synchronous with giving. As I am intentional to receive from God, then giving flows out of that. Giving becomes a joy, not a performance-based activity to gain God's favor. He loves to give--wants to give. I disappoint Him when I don't receive from Him. Giving is merely an outpouring of what I've absorbed from Him. I'm persuaded our most valiant risk is to receive from Him."
"Priscilla, I'm not sure I can swallow this concept. Seems too good to be true. Too easy."
"It is good news," I said. "The good news of the gospel."
"Maybe you're right." Her words didn't sound convincing. She signed off quickly, still mired, I fear, in a performance-based paradigm regarding her relationship with God.
I was glad, though, for her out-of-the-blue question--another opportunity to contemplate the vastness of God's goodness--the way His grace entices us to stay by his side, safe as a lamb, grazing in verdant pastures.