[Editor’s Note: This originally was written on October 28th, 2020, only a couple of weeks into my apprenticeship]
Yeehawing hogs down the mountain is a fun, though sometimes frustrating experience. The hogs – well fattened on a mix of feed, roots, and acorns – can’t conceive of the two mile trek down the mountain road to the barn.
They begin rambunctiously, excited and hungry to move to a new paddock where they hope to get an assortment of new and good things to eat. Ready to move or not though, it takes a push to get them going. After all, even though they don’t want to stay now that they’ve run out of food, they’re momentarily comfortable in their muddy wallows.
Although they move rapidly, it takes some doing to get them to move in the right direction. Pigs don’t have great eyesight, and the herder often has to prod them with a stick or slap a branch in their faces to get them to turn their heads in the right direction. It’s also important for a herdsman to run ahead of the pigs and block off any dead end paths that may be mistaken for actual roads. It’s practically inevitable that least one pig will turn and start running the wrong way, and once one of them heads down the wrong path, others are sure to follow.
Sometimes the pigs don’t even just turn off on almost-roads. For some bizzarre reason, they’ll run headlong into a patch of brambles or up a steep hill, or into an impassable thicket. “Why did you try to go this way?” the herdsman asks, as he picks his way through fallen logs and briars doing his best to get the pigs back on the road down the mountain.
After a time of reckless charging, the pigs start to tire. Their breathing becomes ragged and their pace slows. Sometimes, the herdsman must stop and give the pigs a rest, letting them wallow comfortably for a time, even though their resting place must be brief – it doesn’t have food or shelter to sustain them for long, and it’s not where they need to go.
After a rest, it always takes poking and prodding to get the pigs moving again. They wasted so much energy tearing off on the wrong paths earlier in the trek, and they can’t imagine a warm barn waiting for them. In fact, they don’t know where the road is leading; they just know that it doesn’t seem to end. Once in awhile, a pig will summon the last of his energy and bolt back up the mountain to the original paddock, the remembrance of comfort overshadowing the hope of the end of the road. There are few things more frustrating for the herdsman, who knows that the pig will have to be brought right back down the same mountain again.
Often the pigs are hardest to move when they get to within sight of the barn. They have come so far and gotten so tired, that they want nothing more than to lay down in a ditch and cease the endless trek. “You’re almost there,” the herdsman encourages the group, prodding gently with his stick. When the pig fails to understand, he prods more sharply, sometimes resorting to giving the pig a swift kick to the rear. He hates to hear the pig squeal, but the pig HAS to move. And the destination is so close.
We are a lot like the pigs, aren’t we? We start our journeys with energy and vision, but find it is so easy to go off on the wrong path. We tire, and sometimes we go backwards, having to traverse the same road and learn the same lessons again and again. Sometimes we even require a painful kick in the rear to get us moving in the right direction.
Thank God for our Herdsman, who patiently traverses briars and fallen logs for us, and who can see the path and the destination that we can’t. Our Herdsman never loses patience and never leaves us behind. No matter how much of a pain the neck we are, or how much we veer off into the woods, He always brings us back.
Of course, how long and painful the journey must be is entirely up to us. If we simply stayed on the road and pressed on to the barn, we wouldn’t have to be poked and prodded or scratched by thorns. The road is an easy, downhill grade.
But like the pigs, we’re a lot better at charging off into brambles in the wrong direction, than we are at listening to Him and staying on the road. Perhaps we can learn some wisdom from the pigs, and get a little better at yeehawing down the mountain under the loving care of our own Good Shepherd.