The Shepherd I Do Not Want

It's funny how kids have a different way of interpreting the things adults say to them. When I was very little, I was afraid of the dark. Every shadow was a monster and I was convinced that a den of scary witches lived in my basement. In an effort to help, my mom taught me Psalm 23 and said that reciting it would give me courage. But given the good old King James wording, I didn't quite get the meaning and Psalm 23 had the opposite effect on me.

If you don't know Psalm 23, it's a passage in the Bible which begins "The lord is my shepherd..." It poetically describes a god who is there to shepherd and protect his followers. On the surface, that sounds like a nice idea. To my five-year-old mind, the message wasn't as clear.

Here's a line-by-line look at Psalm 23 and the impressions I remember having as a kid:
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
As an adult, I know know that the "I shall not want" part means that I would not "want for anything." In other words, if I have the lord I will need nothing else. As a little kid, I thought this meant "the lord is a shepherd who is going to be around even though I don't want him."
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Now the shepherd that I don't want is "making" me lie down in a field in the middle of nowhere. To five-year-old me, this sounds suspiciously like forced naptime, or maybe even the vague "stranger danger" I'd been warned about.
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yep, this line went over my head as fancy, meaningless words -- except for thinking that it might have something to do with that other scary bedtime prayer that says god will take my soul when I die in my sleep.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
And now we're talking about a valley of dead people. I'm pretty sure this single line was behind my recurring childhood nightmare where I was running through a field of dead people with a shadowy monster chasing me. In fact, it's the first line I think of when someone mentions Psalm 23 and it still sounds ominous to me today.

I know, I know... it goes on to say that I won't be afraid of evil and that god has a rod and staff to protect me. But all I remember thinking is that this shepherd I don't want dragged me to a field all alone, then left me in a valley of dead people with just a couple of sticks to defend myself.
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Again with the bad location! If god wants to make me dinner, why do it in the valley of dead people where I'm surrounded by enemies?!? And how will pouring oil and water over my head make it better to be in such an awful place?

True, "my cup runneth over" doesn't mean pouring water over my head. I do remember my mom trying to explain that it meant I had so many blessings that they were overflowing out of my "cup," but I was pretty sure she was wrong.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
If "goodness and mercy" were going to follow me, why was I being taken to the valley of dead people by a shepherd I don't even want? Well, I knew that to "dwell in the house of the lord for ever" meant going to heaven. So it must mean that my sticks wouldn't be enough to protect me and the dead people were going to kill me, but when they did, I'd get to go to Heaven.

But if the lord knew the dead people in the valley were going to kill me, why did he make me go there in the first place? And why would a story about me being killed by dead shadows make me feel brave when going into the dark?

Looking back, I think I finally understand why my religion teachers never seemed to like talking to me.


  1. this made me crack up! Thanks!

    1. No matter how blasphemous you are, God loves you. You are still alive today despite of how foolish you are because God is giving you a chance to repent. God is patiently waiting for you to come back to Him. But if you continue in hardening your heart for God, the Lord will take revenge for the blasphemy that you have done towards His holy name. Repent while you still have time. Jesus came to rescue you, allow Him to save you from the eternal damnation in hell. THE BIBLE IS TRUE!