I am a veterinary epidemiologist. I wake up at 4 a.m. and plod barefoot through my morning routine: Put kettle on, switch off outside lights, let Bernie (my baby Saint Bernard) in for a cuddle, make coffee, help Bernie onto the bed, climb back into bed, drink coffee, read Bible verse, and then mull over the day to come.
It’s still dark. I wait for the birds to start chattering and the sun to peep over the neighbor’s wall. Finally, the light reaches my cheek, and I know it is time to get up, shower, change, drive to work, and tackle the day.
I am a veterinary epidemiologist, a public servant of the provincial government. I work with data and with the people responsible for collecting it. Recently I have dealt with a lot of lazy, inefficient people who are not doing their job, which inevitably impacts the quality of my data. I have tried everything: read management books, leadership books, team-building books; I have spoken to people, praying that God would make them better. But nothing helped.
4:30 a.m. Bernie is snoring on the bed. I am tired — emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. It feels as if someone has pulled the plug out of my heart, and all my compassion has gurgled down the drain.
I sip my coffee and read John 10:11-15. Jesus is explaining to the people that He is the Good Shepherd. I have read this verse many times over the years. I replay the image of the hired hand bolting away from the wolf to save himself, versus the picture of Jesus guarding the petrified lambs, wresting the wolf that viciously tears at His robe and rips His flesh. Finally, He retaliates, and the wolf’s lifeless body lies in the dirt. This piece of Scripture has always made me admire the courage and strength of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches us who He is with seven strange “I AM” statements: “I am the bread of life” (6:35); “I am the light of the world” (8:12); “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6); “I am the true vine” (15:1).
My life would have been immensely easier had John recorded Jesus as saying, “I am a veterinary epidemiologist.”
7:00 a.m. I kick off the duvet, rush through the routine, and find myself on the road to work. Traffic is crazy and people are impatient, rude, and reckless. I’m not calm. I’m annoyed with every person on the road and every person at work and maybe every person in the world.
“Why can’t people just do what they are supposed to do?” I wonder out loud. It’s such a pointless, frustrating question, so I decide to think about something else. I think about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. Normally, I would imagine Him with strong, sunburnt arms tackling the big bad wolf. But on this morning it strikes me that Jesus’ job was to love and take care of the sheep. God’s job is to love us! God’s job is to love exactly those people I am irritated with.
I start crying. I have always known that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” But for some reason, it never occurred to me that this is Jesus’ full-time occupation in the way that I understand occupation and career. It is an awful feeling to realize that I have not allowed Jesus to express His heart and will. I didn’t let Jesus do His job — to be the Good Shepherd in my workplace.
I really like Jesus; it is impossible to not like Him. But I am well aware that He is perfect and I am not. It is impossible to be Him, and to be honest, I find it almost impossible to even be like Him. But it is possible and necessary in my day-to-day life to give Jesus the space to be Himself. Discovering who Jesus is, is an ongoing revelation for me. He has to teach me slowly, because if I had to really grasp the whole of who He is in one sitting, I would evaporate.
That encounter was a few weeks ago. It changed my entire paradigm of how I think of my co-workers and people on the road. This is His flock, I tell myself. This is who He is growing, who He died for. This is who He is extending mercy and grace to and who He is thinking of today. This is who He wants to be with.
I thought of Jesus walking to Calvary beneath the weight of the cross He was to hang on, all for the very people I labeled as lazy, useless, and not worth their salary, and I cried. How else does one deal with such a truth as Jesus?
Shortly after that epiphany, I recalled my dad once chasing me away because he was busy working. I was about five years old at the time. I grew up believing love came your way only if you worked hard for it. If I did not work hard enough or the work wasn’t good enough, then I was not worth loving. I accepted this belief and got on with life.
Everything I have ever thought, felt, and done has somehow been influenced by my underlying identity of being not worthy of love. This identity was so deeply entrenched that I never thought to address it. The truth is, there was no possible way to do so without the existence of a completely new identity — not a new identity for me but of the one I defined myself by: my dad. I believed work was more important than me because that’s what my dad believed, and I believed my dad. I believed in my dad.
But there is no escaping the Good Shepherd! Though I was so busy feeling His amazing love for all the people around me, I honestly didn’t think to reconsider myself in the light of His being a professional Good Shepherd. So I had to swallow a hard truth: I am His lamb. I am the one He is growing, who He died for. I am the one He is extending mercy and grace to and is thinking of today. I am who He wants to be with.
I believe in Jesus. He is so sensible that it is nearly impossible to not believe in Him. It is harder to believe Jesus.
Who I am to Him
“I love you” are the hardest words to accept from Jesus’ mouth. But these three words redefine a human being. Out of the mustard seed of this simple truth, abandoned is transformed into adopted, orphan into daughter or son, alone into one of the flock, forsaken into beloved bride, and the world into kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is extraordinary. I can never be Him; I can only let Him be who He is. For this to happen, I must allow Him to have His say about who I am to Him. I have to choose between who He says I am and who I have believed myself to be. I have to choose between who He says people are and who I have believed people to be. This is the mind-boggling challenge we constantly face when hanging around Jesus.
I was a veterinary epidemiologist a couple of days ago. Today I am a happy little lamb, doing veterinary epidemiology in the shadow of the Good Shepherd. I still get up at 4 a.m., put the kettle on, open the door for Bernie, make my coffee, read my Bible, shower, change, go to work, and work the best I can.
But when I look at people, I don’t see them as their job descriptions anymore. I see them as sheep who are hunted by wolves every day and are loved by my Good Shepherd.
Krpasha Govindasamy writes from Pretoria, South Africa.