The voice spoke out of nowhere, catching me completely off guard. I had been communicating with other moms on a private down syndrome support group when one mother's update on her newborn daughter, who also happens to have Down Syndrome, appeared on my screen: "We are now facing the possibility of leukemia." That ugly word stared me in the face, and I recalled reading earlier in my pregnancy that children with Down Syndrome are at an increased risk of developing leukemia. Yes, leukemia.
Leukemia? In a brand new baby? That hardly seems fair.
And then, like a brisk breeze on a chilly day, that voice suddenly whispered "What if," spreading chills throughout my body and terror within my heart. What if? I had forgotten about this possibility, choosing to leave it behind because I knew it wouldn't help to fret over now, but what if? What if Alisa has leukemia?
I would like to say I recognized immediately that the source of these thoughts was not from my Lord, but instead, I spent the day in fear, surrounded by family and friends but painfully alone in my thoughts. I allowed the possibility of such an outcome to dwell in my heart, and I lost my joy that day as I feared for the future. Since I had made my heart open for opinions, I allowed other fearful thoughts to form, as well. Maybe she won't have leukemia, but what about failure to thrive? What if something happens to my placenta and we can't make it to the hospital in time? What if they missed something on the earlier echo and her heart has a major problem? What if something else develops?
What if, what if, WHAT IF?
We are all bombarded with different voices, all day and all night. You only need to scroll through your social media page to fill your mind with the words and opinions of every type of person - good, bad, hopeful, negative. We are always just one Google search away from different voices, different opinions, truths and lies. We don't need to stop there, of course. Pick up any magazine in the checkout line, or turn on your television or the radio station. Voices will instantly fill the room with fact and fiction. Major news events are constantly interpreted by different voices, and you must choose which voice to believe. It is exhausting trying to sort out everything.
Then, to top it all off, there are those voices, the ones that whisper into our hearts, those voices like the one I heard that day. Sometimes those voices are the most difficult to recognize, as they are so subtle in how they whisper lies over us. If we are not on our guard, those voices will take root in our hearts and produce damage quickly and methodically.
As genuine followers of Christ, how do we safeguard ourselves? How do we navigate the waters of this life and follow Him, even when those waters are not always peaceful?
A few days after my initial partnership with fear and worry, I read John 10 one morning. In John 10, Jesus gives an analogy to His disciples in which He describes Himself as the Good Shepherd and His followers as His flock. He contrasts His role of Good Shepherd with those who are not the shepherds of the sheep:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens." (John 10:1-3a)
As He develops the analogy, Jesus claims to be the only Shepherd who genuinely loves and cares for His flock. Any other voice is an imposter who does not have good intentions toward the flock (Jn. 10:10). They may sneak in by some way other than the gate to influence the flock, but they are not the true shepherds of the sheep. Only Jesus is.
The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." (John 10:3b-4)
Sheep do not have a reputation of being smart animals. Without the leading of a good shepherd, they might wander into a perilous situation completely unaware. They are helpless animals on their own, defenseless to the attacks of their enemies. Their only saving grace and chance for survival is at the hands of a kind and committed shepherd. They are able to learn intimately the voice of their leader. With trust, they follow their shepherd's voice, believing that he will care for all of their needs. Jesus used the relationship of shepherd/sheep to teach us a lesson that is the difference between a life of joy and a life of fear.
What voices are we, as sheep, allowing to influence and lead us?
We must know the voice of our Good Shepherd. We must intimately learn His voice and follow Him as He leads. This cannot happen if there is no intentional time spent with the Shepherd. And one thing is clear: of all the voices that vie for our attention and affections, only Jesus' Voice leads us with our good in His mind. Psalm 23 offers more insight:
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." (Psalm 23:1-4)
O, the beauty, the comfort, the peace that washes over us as we know the intentions of our Good Shepherd! Jesus Christ, by the blood of His sacrifice, has made all of these things possible for those who would follow Him. We are assured of His refuge; we are confident in His provision. When voices threaten us with worries and fears or plead for us to go this way or that, we need only discern the voice of our Good Shepherd and follow Him. We must remember what our Good Shepherd has promised, for He is faithful.
Does this mean that life will be easy and pain-free? The Psalm continues:
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)
The Lord does not really leave us guessing, for He spells it out clearly in His Word. The promise of the Good Shepherd is not that we will avoid all trials and tribulations in this life if we follow him. Indeed, He makes it known that we will even face situations that are more than we can bear. Yet He promises that He we will be with us through it all. We only need listen for His voice and follow Him. This does not require predicting the future or knowing for certain that the rocks will not be slippery on the path ahead. It requires trusting Him that whatever lay ahead on the path, He will guide us with a sure footing and confident direction. It also means resting in His promise that, while we may "walk through the valley of the shadow of death," His goodness will rest upon us even still, both in this life and into eternity:
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23:5-6)
Amen? So be it!
How do we all face the days ahead? We each must make that choice. Only remember as you consider which voice you will follow, the deck is stacked in favor of the one who resides under the care of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. The one who learns to listen for and depend upon Him, even in the most difficult of trials, that is the one who will taste the goodness and mercy of the Lord in this life. As genuine believers, may we all choose to follow His Voice, and none other!