What can we learn about caring for young from sheep? More than I imagined.
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’Matthew 25:40 NIV
Hiking in Denali National Park
I heard a rock rattling down the side of the mountain and whipped around to see what made it fall. A small flock of Dall Sheep skittered away.
I pulled out my camera, determined to have everything ready if we saw the sheep again. Because Dall Sheep in Denali aren’t hunted, I hoped they wouldn’t perceive our friendly group of hikers as a serious threat.
We continued uphill, moving from side to side of the creek as the vegetation demanded. Suddenly, we came out next to a rocky outcrop with a green carpet of grass. Not 50 feet away, a ewe calmly ripped a mouthful of grass and turned to gaze at me while she chewed it.
Other hikers pointed and looked, and a few stopped to snap photos. Not wanting to get too far behind, I hiked but stopped to take photos every few yards. After fifteen minutes, I noticed something moving higher up on the ridge.
I grabbed my binoculars to get a closer look and saw a small flock of lambs and medium-sized sheep running down the ridge towards me. The ewes noticed the movement and stood at attention while their lambs came charging towards them.
Evidently, the lambs and sub-adults had escaped higher up when the flock first noticed our movement. Once they categorized us as a non-threat, the ‘babysitters’ brought the lambs back to their mothers.
I’ve spent hours observing Dall Sheep, both in Denali National Park and near Anchorage at Beluga Point. I’ve noticed how when one ewe lays down to rest, the others keep watch. I’ve never seen an entire flock resting at the same time. But they do take turns caring for young, eating, and resting.
What I Learned About Caring for Young from the Sheep
It takes a flock to successfully raise a lamb. They take turns caring for young flock members. Likewise, we need to tap into a flock, village, or community when we have children.
Dall sheep must worry about wolves, coyotes, bears, wolverines, lynx, and golden eagles (which will carry away lambs). Outside of national parks, humans hunt Dall sheep rams. By living in flocks, the sheep can minimize the danger from predators when caring for young. Likewise, we can flock together and watch each other’s backs and nurture each other’s lambs. Wouldn’t our communities and churches feel different if we did this?
Instead of seeing each other’s children as threats (to our children, to our children’s success, or our way of doing things), maybe we should pay heed to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40. The way we treat the least of these is the way we treat God.
Who could you reach out to today?