Setting Up My Year in Christ – Christ’s Call to Greater Trust

January 29, 2023

“Mary Ann, you speak of yourself as a tired sheepdog constantly watching the edges of the field. What would it look like if you were a sheep?” I could feel myself stiffen, my hands clenched.  “What would you be losing if you changed roles?  What would the gains feel like?”  That discussion happened a year ago almost to the day and I still grapple with those questions. What would it look and feel like to be a sheep?

Words can be tricky and have lingering emotional impact, have you noticed? Independent, self-sufficient, accomplished, responsible, resilient can’t help but create a sense of strength.  Every celebrated growth step in our lives recognizes the hard work and effort to achieve those characteristics.  That’s good right?  Never in my growing up and most of my adult life had I heard that powerlessness, dependence, helplessness were values.  Sheepdogs are strong, reliable, observant, brave, responsible.  Sheep are slow, loud, obstinate, dependent, not very intelligent, willful, smelly.  Be a sheep? I was so confused. That moment of questioning drew me to what life had taught me to avoid.  My transformation which began while praying the Spiritual Exercises has organically flowed into my chaplaincy training.  While the struggle continues,  I pray to have the courage to be Christ’s  sheep. 

What does it look like to trust Christ more this year?  

For me, it means picking trust ,which I find so challenging, and allowing myself to be vulnerable with you, the reader, to share myself imperfectly as best I can. It means releasing a desire for certainty for the risk and surprises of curiosity.  It means unlearning and deconstructing for the freedom that follows and allows Light to shine in newly opened heart spaces.  It means looking within for the Spirit, which longs to move out to touch the spirits sharing my path. 

Trust is found in forgiving and being forgiven, knowing that I am stronger for having fallen in my weakness and helped to stand again. Trust comes in believing that Jesus promised to always be with us while remembering that those promises are always kept.  Trust allows us to listen without trying to craft a response.  Trust allows us to truly, bravely sit to hear the emotions of others while believing that the right words will come.  When we see trust in the eyes of others looking at us, we see ourselves as Christ sees us.  Trust allows us to surrender to Love which only desires to love us more.  

The sheep are able to munch and rest in the shade because they know they will be watched and protected.  It wasn’t always so in my human life, and I’m guessing you can say the same.  As we move through life, we are wounded and those wounds can harden us. We learn to protect ourselves and to depend on ourselves sometimes to the exclusion of others.  What we thought was helping us…and perhaps it did for a while…might not be helping now.  

Jesus came to be like us so that we will always have someone who knows exactly how we are feeling.  Trust is His grace which gives us the peace and courage to be dependent and the confidence that we are safe to be helpless in the arms of the Shepherd. We can be dependent because His Spirit is constant and dependable.  We can enter this year with confidence, trusting that while we live in this always uncertain world, we are sheltered and safe within the heart of Christ. 

Trusting God Doesn’t Slumber or Sleep

In my ministry as a hospital chaplain, I visited a woman recently  who had just begun palliative chemotherapy.  She was exhausted and resting before the next administration of what is hoped will minimize the impact of her cancer.  She spoke of prayer and wondered if God was able to still hear her.  She chuckled softly and smiled to herself as one does when teasing a dear friend who she knew was listening.  I had brought a card for her with a picture of a stained glass window of a mountain landscape at dawn before the stars hid. It was inspired by Psalm 121. My thought was that she could look at the picture and the words might come when reading was too difficult.  She absorbed the words with her eyes closed, holding my hand as I read them and then stared at the picture.  “It’s working,” she said with a smile. “It is good to be reminded that God doesn’t slumber or sleep. I can rest in that.”  We sat for a while in silence and then she said, “The Lord is my shepherd…I shall not want.”  During another long pause, we were two little sheep nibbling on the grass in the shade without a care knowing that the Shepherd was watching and would keep us safe…and would come and find us quickly if we were whimpering, stuck in the thicket.  We would be lifted up, hugged and carried to safety.  “I am counting on it.” she said.   That is what trust looks like.

Going Deeper


Read Psalm 121 or Psalm 23 this week. Rest in the words of the Psalm. Allow yourself to rest in the words of the Psalmist and experience the consolation they promise.  Reflect on how the words touch you or might be speaking to you: 

  •  What parts of your life feel tender and touched by the words of the psalm? 
  •  Where are you most vulnerable and in need of healing? 
  •  Rest with Jesus and ask with trust for comfort and healing.  
  • Close your prayer time by slowly rereading the psalm aloud.  
  • During your day notice when the words of the psalm come alive and express your gratitude.


Photo by Efdal Yildiz on Unsplash

Mary Ann Gessner has worked with all generations as an art teacher, in Nursing Homes as Recreation Director, a Social Services and Admissions Director and Administrator. She was the Director of Admission with a focus on international student recruitment for St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and holds a BA in Studio Art and Art Education from the University of Bridgeport, CT and a M.S.A. from St. Michael’s College in VT. Since retiring in 2015, Mary Ann enjoyed the gift of time to nest, quilt, and cook. This gift of time led to Ignatian Spirituality in the Inner Chapel and Becky’s Overwhelmed No More retreat and the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. Mary Ann is currently an intern in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH and is rediscovering her love of storytelling. Her two sons have moved gracefully into their adult lives with their families. Mary Ann and her husband still live in the log home they built 45 years ago in the woods of Sheffield, Vermont.

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