My children and I have been studying the names of God in our Bible time this year. A few weeks ago, we came to “the LORD is my shepherd” from Psalm 23. Having always been drawn to the idea of shepherds because of their place in the Christmas story, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the life of a shepherd as I prepared questions for discussion. One of the first resources I pulled up was a collection of Bible dictionary descriptions of the word “shepherd.” And as I read these entries, I couldn’t help but notice that the shepherd’s daily life reminded me quite a bit of another occupation: the stay-at-home mom.
Take a look at these descriptions . . .
- “The office of the eastern shepherd, as described in the Bible, was attended with much hardship.” — Smith’s Bible Dictionary
Would anyone say that mothering is an easy job?
- “In the morning he led forth his flock from the fold[; . . .] he supplied them with water, either at a running stream or at troughs attached to wells.” — Smith’sSome days it feels like all I do is field requests for food or drink! Seeing to the nourishment of my family—through cooking, finding recipes, grocery shopping, etc.—is a duty that occupies a significant chunk of my time.
- “Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed.” — Easton’s Bible DictionaryWatching all day? Check. Keeping the little ones from getting lost or killing themselves? Check. I’ll add to this description that these responsibilities of a shepherd were bound to get a bit dull and tedious at times, and . . . well . . . Check.
- “[A shepherd’s] food frequently consisted of the precarious supplies afforded by nature, such as [ . . . ] the locusts and wild honey which supported the Baptist.” — Smith’s I know I’m not the only mother who often survives by scrounging up the leftovers off her kids’ plates, or scavenging the last crumbs from cereal or cracker boxes!
- “Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief.” — Easton’sThankfully my children are not under much threat from (real) nighttime predators, but my labors often do not end at bedtime. Despite no longer having an infant, I’m still awakened many nights by someone who had a bad dream or a tummy ache or just wanted to come sleep in my bed.
- “[The shepherd’s office] also required tenderness toward the young and feeble.” — Smith’sThe parallel is pretty obvious here! The gentle nurturing of a mother is essential to the care of infants and of children who are injured or sick.
- Finally, “The Egyptian captivity did much to implant a love of settled abode, and consequently we find the tribes which still retained a taste for shepherd life selecting their own quarters apart from their brethren in the transjordanic district. Thenceforward in Palestine proper the shepherd held a subordinate position.” — Smith’s
To put that into plain English, shepherds were looked down upon by society and were somewhat segregated from the rest of civilization. By comparison, I will say that the notion of one parent staying at home seems to have gained a bit more respect and popularity over the past several years. At the same time, however, more young couples are choosing to not to have children in the first place, or to postpone childbearing for an indeterminate time while they pursue education and career. So while we may be moving toward a trend of adults who want to prioritize time with their children, it is still generally considered more important to focus on other things first. And there are still many voices out there who would proclaim it a “waste” for a bright young woman to be “just” a stay-at-home mom.
As for segregation, stay-at-home moms are often separated from their peers by naptimes, low energy, and the effort it takes to get out of the house. As much of a blessing and fulfillment of a dream it may be to stay at home with their children, many moms struggle with loneliness and depression. I have to imagine that ancient shepherds may have understood these feeling at times.
Clearly, there are many ways in which the daily life of a stay-at-home mom compares to that of the Biblical shepherd. But despite the challenges I have pointed out, I think this notion should be encouraging to us. I will give you two reasons for now why moms can take comfort in the idea of being like a shepherd.
- You are reflecting the nature of God. God the Father is often described as a shepherd (Psalm 23, 78:5, 80:1). Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). When I have trouble seeing how my work could be considered valuable or significant (as I often do), I can remember that my position in many ways parallels the work of the Lord. I don’t think it can get much more significant that that!
- You are valued by God, despite your apparently humble position. During the Christmas season, I am often reminded that out of all the people and professions in the world, God chose the lowly shepherds to be the first recipients of the Good News of Jesus’ birth. Why? I’m not really sure. But I think it tells you something about the type of work that God values. The world may not recognize the significance of certain professions, but God sees beyond what we see. Oftentimes, He specifically chooses to use those that appear “lesser” than others (1 Cor. 1:27-29). So as you place the shepherds in your nativity scene, take a moment to remember that even the underappreciated occupations are valuable in God’s eyes. Who knows? He may yet have a special purpose in mind for you that you never expected, just like the shepherds long ago on that silent night.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.