"Out in the desert they wander,
Hungry and helpless and cold;
Off to the rescue he hastens,
Bringing them back to the fold."
LDS Hymns #221, "Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd"
But as much as He is hastening to rescue, it can feel like an eternity to the foolish, lost sheep.
As a student of pre-veterinary medicine, I once had the privilege of knowing a real-life shepherd. Not just a sheepherder, was Warren, he was a true shepherd. Even in an academic field with many colorful personalities (my friend and I used to joke that missing a body part was a prerequisite), he stood out. He was quiet and awkward until he stepped into the sheep pen, where he became a blaze of decisive ovine-oriented charisma. I found his personality utterly compelling, and I still wish I had a chance to learn more about him.
I competed once in a lively contest between my university and a rival for the honors of knowing which school was smartest in animal matters. There were several parts to the contest, once of which was a series of practical tests with a wide variety of beasts. One test was to catch and draw blood from a sheep while Warren looked nervously on. After our job was done, we asked Warren how the other teams had done. I vividly remember the pained look on his face as he mentioned that one team, cattlemen mostly, had attempted to draw blood from the tail. I realized at that point that Warren saw these rather stupid, belligerent animals as precious. He saw something in his charges that eludes me to this day.
Whenever I think of Christ as the Shepherd, I think of Warren and I try to remember that the Lord's sheep have value that I might not see.
Even the sheep that is me.