It sure seems like it was a long time ago and I guess that it was. I was about the same age as little Susie Johnson when it happened. I had spent much of the summer on my Uncle Axel’s farm in a fertile valley to the north of Crescent City. He patiently taught the rudiments of farm life. He taught me how to milk cows and feed the livestock. I learned how to drive the tractor (while sitting on his lap, all I really got to do was to steer but I had a lot of fun).
On especially hot days, when the chores were caught up, we went fishing in a special place in the creek that ran through his property. The creek took a turn at this spot and there was a pool that the fish liked to rest in. It was covered by a number of large trees so that in the hot summer, this was the coolest spot on the farm. Sometimes Aunt Lina would bring us a picnic lunch up there while we were fishing. We would eat and sit on the bank of the creek and watch our floats riding lazily on the water. It took me a long time to realize that most of that time was not really fishing time; it was a time to relax and spend time together. My uncle taught me a lot on those days. We talked about most everything a boy could talk about with a special uncle that had invested so much time listening to him. He always had a story to tell. Somehow that story would relate to things that were of interest to me and eventually (years later, actually) I realized that they were stories from the Bible.
Quite often, the story was about another little boy, just about my age, that lived a long time ago. He was the youngest of many brothers and it fell to him to tend the family’s flock of sheep. He would have to stay with the sheep constantly and care for them. He would have to make sure that they had proper grazing land, adequate water and to sleep with them at night to protect them from predators. It sounded to me like the most boring job in the whole world. He never got to spend any time with his friends or to just goof off if he wanted to. There were times on my uncle’s farm that I felt the same way. I didn’t like getting up early just to make sure that the cows were milked and all the animals fed. I didn’t mind gathering eggs so much, because I could eat them for breakfast, but the rest of the work on the farm was just that. It was work. It was boring. My aunt Lina had a pretty good-sized garden that seemed to need weeding almost constantly, that was no fun at all. I, somehow, didn’t connect the weeding with the tomatoes, beans, and corn that I enjoyed at dinner and supper each day.
I also didn’t like making sure that the cows were in the barn and the sheep in the pen each night. I thought that they would be just as well off out in the pastures like they were all day. At least I thought that until one night when I was lazy and didn’t gather all the sheep in like I was supposed to and a cougar killed one of them. My uncle was really mad for a while. He never told me so, he just didn’t say anything at all for a whole day. I felt horrible. The next day, Uncle Axel suggested that we go fishing. I was really surprised. I thought that he would stay mad at me longer than that. But, we went about midday and packed a lunch with us. We didn’t talk much on the way out there. We just walked along carrying our fishing gear and the lunch.
We passed the pasture that the sheep were in along the way and I thought again about what I had done. We stopped for just a minute and my uncle began to explain to me how sheep were really some of the most defenseless animals there were. They have no horns or big teeth to defend themselves. They can’t run fast to get away from attackers. They really rely on the shepherd to take care of them. My uncle took the time to point out to me all the things that I needed to know to really have this lesson sink in. I was responsible for those sheep. They depended on me and I let them down.
We then went to the fishing hole and set up our poles. We unpacked the lunch that Aunt Lina had packed for us and began sitting and waiting for the fish to bite. As usual, we didn’t see much action and we started to talk. I put some effort into a heartfelt apology for my laziness and my uncle made sure that I understood that he had forgiven me. That was a real load off of my small back. He then began to tell me a story about that young boy that lived so long ago.
He was out watching the sheep one day and his brothers had forgotten to bring his supper. He was getting really hungry and a little resentful of their neglect and decided that the sheep could just take care of them selves for a night. He had been taking really good care of them for several weeks. He had even spent the night with them each night and no wild animals had come even close to them. Certainly he could take one night off, get a good meal and sleep in his own bed. Well, he did just that. He took them to the same place that they had spent the night in for the last couple of nights, made sure that they had all that they needed and then began the walk toward his home.
He got home right around supper time and had a splendid meal with his family, he talked and laughed with them and then crawled into his own comfortable bed. He was very tired from his days and weeks of long hours with the sheep and dropped off into a deep sleep almost immediately. In his sleep, he began to dream. He dreamed that he was still with the sheep and they had all settled down for the night and while sleeping with the sheep, he was awoken by the sound of the sheep baaing nervously. He got up to investigate and he noticed that at the far end of the flock there was a shadow moving slowly toward the sheep. The young shepherd grabbed his crook and his knife and began to move slowly around the edge of the flock toward the shadow. When he got closer, he realized that it was a lion doing some night hunting. He began to feel very frightened. He also felt like he needed to do something but was very unsure of what to do. After all, he was but a boy and this was a very large lion.
Our young shepherd awoke from his deep sleep with a start, realized the danger that he had left his flock in and immediately dressed, and began running to where he had left them. When he arrived, he could tell that they were nervous about something and as he looked around, he saw a shadow very much like the one in his dream. He realized that his dream had been for the very purpose of getting him back to protect his sheep.
My uncle paused for what seemed like a very long time…I grew impatient.
“What did he do next?” I asked him. My uncle then calmly told me that the young shepherd prayed. “What? What kind of stupid thing is that to do when a lion is about to attack?” I responded. My uncle calmly replied, “That is usually the best thing to do at a time like that. Let me finish the story.”
He started up again with the story telling me how the young boy realized that this was not something that he could take care of all by himself and so he asked for help from the most powerful friend that he had. He talked to the Lord. You see, not all those long hours with the sheep were spent in idleness. The young boy would think about the stories that he had been told from the Bible and the God that they described. He would talk the Lord and he would write poetry and songs to the Lord. He played his small harp too calm the sheep when they were restless. So now when they were in real danger, he prayed to the Lord and asked for strength and wisdom to care for his sheep properly. He began to sing to the sheep to settle them down. He picked up his staff and knife and began to slowly walk around the flock as he had in his dream. When he got about halfway around, he could see the lion clearly and approached it very slowly. Fortunately, he was approaching from downwind. The lion was stalking one of the sheep and did not notice him right away. To make a long story short, the lion did attack him but he was able to stun it with his staff and then kill it with his knife.
As a young boy, I was very impressed with this story. I was really excited that a young boy could take on a lion and win. My uncle was telling me the story to make sure that I understood the importance of taking care of the sheep properly. He also had another reason.
As an adult, I am now impressed by that story for a different reason. It was not the boy’s strength or prowess with his weapons that caused his victory over the lion. I realize now that it was the prayer that empowered and enabled the boy. As a young boy, I could not fully appreciate that. I had some glimmer of understanding. I think that now I understand better, but still, not fully. Prayer is a powerful tool. At all times, not just in times of need. Had that young boy not taken the time to reflect on the stories that he had been told and gotten to know the Lord those stories told of, he would not have been able to prevail against the lion that night. We all need to do the same.