I knew I wanted him the minute I laid eyes on him. He was comically rotund, with round, dark, knowing eyes and a fluffy fleece.
He was a lamb. Not a real one, of course, but a large stuffed lamb, an Easter decoration or a child’s toy. There, in the grocery store, I stopped my cart, stretched to reach him on the highest shelf, and pulled him to my chest. I only wanted to hold him for a moment.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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“He’s so cuuuuute!” I cooed. “I love him!”
Though it was mid-Lent and an entirely ridiculous idea, my husband Dan bought him for me on the spot. Because he is good to me like that.
The lamb sat in my lap on the car ride home. I buried my face in his wooly coat, breathed in the smell of his newness, and wondered aloud which of the kids we might surprise with this gift on Easter morning.
“No,” Dan interrupted me, “He’s for you.”
So I named him Woolbur, and he was mine.
The kids made a proper fuss over him when I waltzed through the door with this prize. Owning such a creature felt a bit extravagant. A glowing, snow-white Easter lamb in the dead of Lent? You’re not supposed to do that. I placed him on an end table in the living room where he silently observed our daily living.
Slightly scandalous though it felt, owning Woolbur did inspire me to reflect on the symbol of the Easter lamb. Even more so than Easter bunnies, the lamb is a symbol rich with the meaning of sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the lamb, but he is our shepherd too.
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).
I used to cringe at the thought of being a lamb like this. Oh, that’s a great idea, I could imagine non-believers sneering. Be led like lambs. To the slaughter.
And sometimes this life we live here, under Woolbur’s watchful eyes, does feel like slaughter. Not in large or dramatic ways, but secret small ones.
We scrub grass-stained knees on baseball pants. We separate small, wrestling bodies, intent on doing one another harm. We soothe sulking and tame tantrums. We fold towels. We race. We rush. We run. Breathless, we answer the phone. We bark orders about schoolwork and barter with sticks of gum and video games. We eat burned toast and drink cold coffee. We dress bodies, undress bodies, and then wash the clothes. We find sticky things in the dryer and smell something foul in the van. We forget to eat lunch. We step on Cheerios, cut off crusts, and boil spaghetti. We pour milk and it spills. We pick up, put away, sort, clean, shake out, wipe down, brush off, smooth over, launder, hang up, straighten, fix, and sweep… just to maintain the status quo.
Baa, baa. Ha, ha. The joke is on us.
Worse still, though this life is filled with smallness, still we falter sometimes beneath the crushing weight of its enormity. There is a mocking voice that, if we let it, creeps into the spaces between the little-league bleachers, the orthodontist’s office, and the toothpaste-spotted sink.
“You are doing a terrible job,” it hisses. “You are failing — failing! — at the important stuff.”
In the face of that kind of challenge, that kind of temptation to despair, we are called to be lambs. To hear His voice and follow Him. To give Him every minute of our days and nights. To give Him all. To trust.
It takes the courage of a lion to be a lamb like that.
But the good news is that God went first. Both lamb and shepherd, He showed us the way. And by sacrificial standards, we’re just babies anyway.
In the last half of Lent and the first part of Easter, Woolbur witnessed no real drama of the cross here in our home, and no real glory either. He saw only small things. When it comes to the small things, we can count our mini crucifixions or we can count our tiny comforts. Because if we’re truthful, we have equal parts of both.
Earlier this week, I sat in on the last few minutes of my daughter Gabrielle’s First Communion rehearsal. The children lined up in front of the altar to practice singing the hymn they will perform on Saturday.
“Come into my heart… come into my heart…”
Small voices and simple words filled the church. Clean and clear, they cut through my messy mind, still spinning from a run to Walmart, an hour at the playground pushing kids on the swings in a cold and spitting rain, a haphazard plan for dinner, and three boys left to pick up at baseball.
“I will follow you, Lord,” they sang on, and finally, “I give my life to you.”
These children know few crosses yet, but they do know trust and love. They trust and they love because they don’t yet know anything else.
Give me grace, I found myself praying. Give me grace to be a lamb like that.