Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sheep (and Chickens) Who Stray

I've got 14 chickens right now. I've raised these chickens from the time they were 2-3 days old. I've fed them, kept them warm and sheltered, I've protected them, and have watched them grow and mature. They went from my brooder (a four-sided box with a heat lamp for warmth) to the outdoor coop and run, to finally being able to free range on our land. Before I ever let them loose I followed some advice I found online and tried to "train" my chickens to come when called. This basically consisted of calling "chick, chick, chick" loudly and in the same way each time, followed by a reward for the chickens that came to me. It took a couple of weeks of doing this at least once a day, but soon most of the chickens would respond reliably (and the stragglers eventually follow because they don't like to be separated from the whole flock.) It's rather gratifying to let my chickens out to roam around the yard and then watch them all perk up and come running when I call them. They know my voice and know that if I'm calling them in that certain way, they're going to get a treat for listening and coming to me. To my husband they are just a bunch of dumb birds who poop way too much (can't really argue with either point!) but to me, they are my pets that I have nurtured from the time they were babies, and I want to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.

My chickens and the relationship I have with them is what came to mind when reading Alma 5:37-38 where it  talks about how the sinners have gone astray, like sheep without a shepherd. They are left to fend for themselves, and have no one looking out for them. They are like ignorant chickens who can't wait to be let out but don't have the sense to come back to safety when called. The saddest part is that they do have a shepherd, one who has known them from before the day they were born. He has watched over them, nurtured them, and watched them grow. I'm sure the Savior looks fondly on each of His sheep, knowing each of their different personalities, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. He knows which ones are really loyal and stay close to him because they love Him, just like He knows those who feel the need to roam far from Him, or those who just don't listen.

Those sheep who stray can't see the love they're turning their backs on. Somewhere along the way they've misunderstood what the shepherd's role is, and how much He cares about them. Unfortunately, because they separate themselves from the fold, they no longer belong to the good shepherd. They no longer have claim on His protection, His nurturing care, or His grace. They are free to roam, free to do what they please, but with that "freedom" comes a lot of dangers they aren't even aware of. Only the shepherd has the wisdom and knowledge to know all of the dangers that they face. Being silly sheep, they see only the green fields and miss the wolves lurking in the shadows at the edge.

Like sheep, my chickens aren't really knowledgeable about all of the dangers they face. They tend to be aware of flying predators like hawks, but have had no experience with fox, coyote, raccoon, or even neighboring dogs. They are too young, inexperienced, and ignorant to know of all the dangers that await them when they stray from the safety of their coop. However, as their protector I know to keep an eye out for predators, and will gladly grab my gun and go after anything that is threatening them. I won't always be able to get to them as quickly as needed, or be able to kill every predator, so their safest bet is still to come running when I see danger and call them back to me, just like our safest bet is to stay within hearing range of our Shepherd and to trust Him to watch out for us.