You know, when some people start learning about the meaning of their name, they find out it means something really, really cool. My husband’s name means “Industrious One.” My son’s name means “Spirit of Battle.” My daughter’s name means “Tranquil” or “Peaceful”—which, if you know my daughter, is a bit of a misnomer, but at least it’s nifty.
I was a bit disappointed when I learned, as a child, that the meaning of “Rachel” was “little lamb.” All the name meanings in the world, and I was named after a sheep? I remember wishing that my name meant something more interesting whenever we talked about name meanings at school or church. Yet, as frustrated as I was, there probably couldn’t be a more accurate name for the person God created me to be.
I have spent my entire life as part of the “flock,” the body of Christ. I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t going to church events at least twice a week. The most rebellious I ever got as a teenager was playing a prank on someone at a youth event and then immediately breaking down and being consumed by guilt for hours on end. Like a young lamb, I was constantly supported by the flock around me, as well as by the incredible, caring hand of my Good Shepherd. Also like a young lamb, I didn’t really realize how much care and effort was poured into my life. I simply skipped along in safe pasture, the ups and downs of my personal journey always under the watchful eye of my Savior and my salvation community.
Looking back, I am aware of how incredibly blessed I have been. I am also painfully cognizant of the many people who have not had the same opportunities. I have seen so many hearts broken, so many lives harmed by the work of “hired hands” in the salvation community. You see, when Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, he was doing more than just calling himself good. He was setting himself up in comparison to the other leaders who had been tasked with shepherding God’s community. He was criticizing those who, when they were supposed to be making sure the flock was safe and well-fed and had space to grow, were instead viewing the flock as a source of income and personal gain—a commodity to be used rather than a community to be nurtured. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day were so wrapped up in their understanding of blessing and perfection that, very often, the most vulnerable in society were weighed down with impossible demands and considered outcasts, rejects, cursed by God. People who might have become safe, healthy members of the flock were driven away, left to wither and starve alone, because those who were supposed to care for them couldn’t be bothered to notice.
Jesus rejected that transactional mode of leadership. For our Good Shepherd, caring for the flock meant protecting and nurturing it at the cost of His own life. It meant wielding His incredible, universe-shaping power in such a way that the people of God could have a safe space to hear, to learn, to grow, and even to fail—for whether they understood it or not, He would always be there to keep them far from harm. It meant cultivating the community of the changed so that they could become stronger—not for the sake of His own gain, but for themselves and their transformation.
One day, when I was still in my teens, my Good Shepherd saw fit to call me to be a leader in the flock. He asked me to be a part of this incredible calling—to make his people safe and strong, to lead them in the way they should go, to give them the space to grow and flourish and fail under His watchful eye. I’m still pinching myself, over a decade later, finding it hard to believe that I get to be a part of the same gentle care that guided my own journey.
These days, I’m pretty okay with the meaning of my name. It reminds me of the incredible privilege I have of being a little lamb in the flock of the Good Shepherd, blessed every day to thrive in His embrace. It also challenges me to create the same opportunities for every lost lamb wandering out there, driven from the flock by neglect or despair. May we all thrive under the care of our Shepherd, and care for others with the same love that is lavished upon us each day.