I find it fascinating how seemingly insignificant moments from our past can remain hidden in our memories for many years before they are suddenly triggered. Often it’s a song, a smell, or in my case, a Scripture verse that instantly transports us back to a former time and place. Has this ever happened to you?
For me, it was a verse from Psalm 28:9: “Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever” (NIV).
When I read it, suddenly it was 1975 and I was traveling in New Zealand with a Christian singing team. I had just graduated from college and decided to serve with Youth Encounter for a year before embarking on my teaching career.
Our team spent each week sharing the Gospel and building relationships. It was tiring work and we looked forward to our weekly day off to rest and relax. Often, our host church would offer us the opportunity to experience local attractions such as watching local farmers shear their sheep. New Zealand was beautiful and green, full of friendly people with lovely accents. The country offered us many options to explore.
One week, our host church arranged a trip to the ocean, something our mostly Midwestern team rarely had the opportunity to experience. We eagerly stepped onto a small boat and headed out. One of my teammates and I jumped from the boat into the water, laughing and enjoying the salty ocean water on the hot afternoon.
When we decided to get back on board, one of the guys on the boat reached down and offered to pull us up. My friend responded first and up she went. I accepted the offer, put my hand up, and was pulled out right after her.
His offer to help seemed like a simple and kind gesture. So why do I still remember the moment all these years later?
Because, after he pulled me up, he made a quiet comment under his breath to the man standing next to him that went something like, “Wow, that was different.” Which meant, to my 22-year-old ears, “Wow, she was a lot heavier than the other girl.”
And I was.
Crushed and embarrassed, I felt that this day I had looked forward to was ruined. It is one thing to feel overweight but to have someone, albeit very quietly, point it out was difficult for me to face. Hoping no one had heard, I shoved my feelings down as best as I could. But little comments like that have a way of dwelling quietly in the back of our hearts until something awakens them.
As I meditated on Psalm 28:7, I found David praising the Lord for hearing his cry for mercy. He was shouting out, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him” (NIV). I envisioned David raising up his arms and worshiping the God he loved, knowing that his cry had been heard. I saw myself right there with David, happy and rejoicing in the God who hears my praises too—my strength and fortress in troublesome times.
But then my eyes settled on the last verse in this Psalm: “Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.” My focus shifted.
I visualized God as my Shepherd carrying His beloved sheep—me. I pictured myself in His arms and close to His heart. Instead of incredible peace and comfort, however, an uneasy thought was slowly rising. Would I be too heavy for my Shepherd?
I don’t think a sheep would wiggle out of the Shepherd’s arms believing she would be too much for Him to carry.
But I might.
At that moment, the memory of the man in New Zealand grasping my hand and pulling me up into the boat that beautiful day, 45 years ago, suddenly bubbled to the surface.
I sat with my uncomfortable memory and wrestled with the subtle anxiety that accompanied it.
Am I too heavy for my Shepherd? Would He want to carry me?
Along with that question, another one lingered: Would I let Him carry me?
After much pondering, I recognized how shame had once again stepped up with its age-old argument, “Of course you are too heavy. You’ve always been too heavy. Don’t trust the Shepherd to carry you. You’re too much for Him. Step down. Don’t even try.”
I’ve battled that voice for oh-so-many years. I never learned to swim. Dancing is not fun, and I’m uncomfortable participating in most sports, including yoga, because it requires tights and fitted shirts.
In “The Soul of Shame,” Curt Thompson MD explains how shame is like a personal attendant who “watches you, offering multiple opportunities to assimilate a story that tells you, in essence, that you are not enough, you do not have what it takes to be okay.”
Have you felt this way? You’re not alone.
But what is the truth here?
The True Lover of my soul has plenty to say about my belovedness. He cares deeply for my soul and has given me the freedom to be me and to embrace all He has given.
“We are God’s handiwork,” Ephesians 2:10 assures me (NIV).
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1 promises me (NIV).
“You knit me together in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made…my frame was not hidden from you when I was made in secret, intricately woven …Your eyes saw my unformed body,” Psalm 139:13-16 reassures me in my weakest moments (NIV).
“My uncertainty is God’s opportunity to reveal the certainty of His love for me,” writes Shelly Miller, author of “Rhythms of Rest.” And I agree. When those quiet words, spoken by the man pulling me out of the boat so many years ago, threaten to accuse me of not-good-enough-ness, I will use them to remember how my Shepherd pulls me up and out of the raging waters every day! He loves me without one ounce of criticism.
That twinge will always remind me of my need for Him. When this lie comes to attack, I can apply His truth and my agreement with the truth about who I am. I can turn away from the shame that threatens to keep me in bondage and I can turn toward God’s higher love and absolute certainty.
He willingly carried the weight of the whole world, after all, when He died on the cross. I am not too much for Him.
So do I trust my Good Shepherd to be strong enough to carry me?
Yes, I certainly do—even when some embedded memory tempts me to think otherwise.
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