Footprints of a Shepherd
Many years ago, in a small country of the Middle East, a young shepherd boy named Mark was preparing to go to his father’s fields. Being only fourteen years old, this was to be his first night guarding the sheep. He left his home determined to prove he was worthy to hold a position of honor. After he had reached the fields and relieved his older brother, who was also a shepherd, he found a small mound from where he could watch the whole flock. “Tonight,” he thought “I will make my father proud.” He locked this thought deep in his heart so that he would not forget his purpose that night. Soon all signs of light faded from the sky and eerie shadows stretched across the ground. Mark began to lose his confidence and unconsciously allowed fear to plant itself into his mind. He wished that he were home talking to his mother, for she always knew how to comfort and help him. Suddenly, he remembered a poem that she used to read to him when he was a child. Softly he repeated the words: “My precious child I love you and would never leave you. When you saw only one set of footprints it was then that I carried you.” These words gave him courage, so over and over again he said them to himself. At that moment, a sharp cry pierced the air followed by the frightened bleating of sheep. Pulled from his daydream, Mark recognized the sound immediately. It was a wolf, a shepherd’s worst enemy. Forgetting all fear, he ran toward the direction from which the sound had come. When he found the wolf, he was alarmed to see that it was carrying a newborn lamb in its mouth. He picked up a large rock and threw it at the fierce animal. The wolf cried out in pain and dropped the lamb, then with his yellow eyes glowing, turned and ran into the brush. Mark knelt beside the small lamb and gently lifted it into his arms. He was relieved that the only injuries were the puncture wounds from the wolf’s teeth. As he walked back to the small hill, he noticed his footprints in the soft ground and was once again reminded of his mother’s poem. He never left the sheep, and when they faced the most danger, that was when he picked them up and carried them. When he drew close to his destination, a familiar figure stepped out of the shadows. “Father!” Mark called out in surprise. “Why did you come, did you hear the wolf?”
“Yes, I heard it, but I was here long before that. I followed you from the house and have been watching you since then.”
Mark’s face showed an expression of bewilderment and disappointment. “Did you not trust me to take care of the sheep?” he asked in a small voice.
“Of course I did, Son. I just wanted to make sure you would be safe. I did not want you to know that I was here because I was afraid you would become distracted and not do your job properly. My father did the exact same thing to me the first night I went out to watch the sheep.”
“So you have been with me the whole time.” It was more of a statement of relief rather than a question.
“Yes, my precious child I love you and would never leave you. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”