Who Are Your Shepherds?

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

Excerpted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 23, April 20, 2010, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1, NRSV

I wonder — Who are your shepherds?

My dad — Charles Richardson — is one of my shepherds. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

Now he’s walking through the shades of death … the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrinks just a little bit more. When I was with him two months ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I have become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

I know there are so many like him — wandering through dark valleys of illness or depression or struggle.

My dad’s shepherd is his wife. He is tethered to life through her presence. But there will soon come a time when he doesn’t know her as his wife. And he will depend on shepherds who will care for him even though he may not know who they are. It’s heartbreaking to think of him in this way, and I trust that God, the great shepherd, will tether his heart in love. That “goodness and love will pursue him every day of his life.”

I need shepherds to guide me through these days of the loss of my Dad. I need to know and trust that he will have shepherds who will take good care of him. And I want to watch for opportunities to be a shepherd to others — to serve, to love, to witness to goodness, to give comfort, to nurture hope.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode, and all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest (while others go and come),
no more a stranger nor a guest; but like a child at home.

– “Psalm 23 (My Shepherd, You Supply My Need)”
[Words: Isaac Watts; adapt. by Mary Ruth Coffman (© 1981 The Upper Room)]

6 thoughts on “Who Are Your Shepherds?”

  1. Thank you for sharing about shepherds. This has been a week of remembering and giving thanks for those who have done the work of shepherd in my life–though it was sometimes difficult for me to receive their guidance or care well. May God continue to walk with you–and your father and others.

  2. @Mark — sorry for the delay. Thanks very much for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Blessings on the work of remembering and giving thanks for shepherds.


  3. Reading your words brought back the long, often painful, journey of my dear Aunt GG’s lingering years of Alzheimers. As her family, we worked mightily to gently guide, care for and nurture her physical and mental decline while her spiritual center seemed to remain intact and steadily focused. In the days leading up to her death, her sweet spirit, quiet voice and ever-present smile faded somewhere into the background of a reality that no longer existed.

  4. Many years later, I am just reading this. Thanks! It stands as a fine witness to the heart aches of Alzheimers, within the parent-child relationship. But also, to that time in the life of our relationships with meaningful shepherds of all kinds when they can no longer be our shepherd for whatever reason, and we are no longer recognized/remembered by them. Parental relationships last a lifetime though they change over time. But some of our shepherds are there for shorter periods of time. Whether we stay in contact or let go of contact altogether, the part of us that felt shepherded I think wants always to feel as special to them as they were to us, or that we can someday “return in kind” and it’s seldom the way it is and it is our gift to them as much as to ourselves to give them over to the shepherds and the greater shepherd in their lives.

    I stumbled on this trying to find a place to say the retreat on the psalms sounds great, but I will not be joining you. I love Roberta’s books. Blessings!

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