Whack! I jerked upright in the bed, my heart racing. After a moment of grogginess, I realized what I had done. Thankfully my husband was out of town and missed my assault on his pillow! The nightmare I had was so real; it took me a few minutes to remind myself that it was only a dream.
Intense dreams have woken me from sleep before. In these dreams, some important person in my life, usually my husband, my sister, or a close friend, either completely rejects me or abandons me when I am in distress.
Thankfully, these dreams have disrupted my sleep less frequently over the past few years. But they are always a reminder of a deep need to feel secure and loved, and the wound in my soul from early life relationships that left me feeling insecure and abandoned.
During my early childhood, my mom battled severe anxiety and depression, and was hospitalized many times. I often felt alone and afraid when she would withdraw emotionally and physically. Trying to understand and cope with my mom’s mental illness, I struggled with guilt and self-blame, carrying a weight of fear and shame into my teen and young adult life.
Although I was raised in the Lutheran church and knew in my mind that Jesus loved me and that I was saved by His death on the cross, I spent the next decade and more trying to somehow prove that I was worthy of His love. I strived to be independent and self-reliant, excelling academically, in sports and musical endeavors, and later in my career as a nurse. But I was insecure and anxious inside, trying to please others and God, and lived with a deep fear of relational abandonment.
Fear of relational abandonment can manifest in many ways: clingy or controlling behavior, or emotional avoidance and stubborn self-reliance. To be honest, I have struggled with each of these behaviors at different times of my life.
During my twenties and early thirties, I faced periods of severe depression and anxiety, which triggered more shame that I couldn’t control this part of myself. I finally sought help, and through the healing tools of professional counseling and medication for depression, God began to untangle the knot of depression and anxiety that was consuming me.
Over time, as I began to seek after God and study His Word, I discovered the true healing balm for my emotional wounds — the unconditional love of Jesus. I started to earnestly study the bible and press in to Jesus, and to believe He would never leave me or forsake me!
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” John 10:11-14 ESV
Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the “hired hand”. The imagery of the Shepherd that knows His sheep and lays down his life for them is so powerful. The Lord Jesus does not flee or abandon one of His flock.
My journey of following the Good Shepherd has not always been smooth. I have stumbled greatly and wandered off in an attempt to live my own way. Despite my sinfulness and brokenness, God has been working a redemption story through my life. As I reflect on my life of 51 years, I am amazed at the peace I now have in knowing my Good Shepherd, and how God has used my broken and mended heart to reach out to others who are feeling alone and abandoned.
Do you find yourself struggling to trust God, wondering if He really loves you enough to keep you in his sheepfold – no matter what? Take time today to meditate on the truth that your Shepherd is Good, and He knows you by name!