the stranger (who's a little too familiar) & the shepherd

shepherd or stranger

**this post is part of the september synchroblog, a diverse group of bloggers writing on the same topic.  this month’s is called “the devil made me do it” and is centered on “what are some weird, wacky or just plain different things you’ve heard taught about Satan?  what do you think of those ideas? how have they shaped your perspective (or not) about Jesus?”  i’ll add links to other bloggers’ posts once they come in today so you can read some different pieces.

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there are a few things that i want to get out of the way from the start–i believe there is a spiritual battle for people”s hearts being waged here on earth.  i believe there are forces working against people feeling love, hope, connection, peace, and freedom.  i believe God’s heart and desire for us is to experience life this side of heaven.  i believe that when Jesus said “i came that you might have life and have it to the full” that he was calling us all into a deep and free-ing story, deeper and more freeing than we even know.  i also believe there’s a “stranger” who’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy us, bent on robbing humans of life.

and i also believe that for some, the “stranger”–the enemy, the evil one, Satan, the devil, whatever you want to call it–is not a stranger at all but actually the more familiar voice that we hear.

in john 10, Jesus says that the sheep know my voice and they follow me.  they won’t run off with the stranger because they do not recognize his voice.  but the truth is that for many of us, the stranger’s voice is what we follow, thinking it is God’s.  those who were raised in systems that used a lot of condemnation and fear in their teaching and practices know what i’m talking about.  we hear in our heads often “you’re not this enough or that enough.  if you really believed, then you’d be here instead of there.   God hates….  God won’t listen to you unless you are pure before him.  God is tired of you never getting it right.  if you’d just get yourself right before God then everything wouldn’t be so hard. pray harder. try harder. do more. get it right.” 

for me, not being raised in an overtly christian home or going to church as a kid, i didn’t really have a lot of God baggage before i entered church. from an early age i was strangely drawn to Jesus and his power and healing after reading about him in a little white Bible someone gave me.  then, after experiencing a lot of shame from things done to me & things i did, i did turn to God and church in a more intentional way to help me.  i cried out to God for forgiveness, for help, for healing.  the voice that i often heard back was not the voice of love but the voice of condemnation.  i do not believe that was God’s voice.  i believe it was the “stranger’s” voice trying to become the more familiar one in my life.  the one i’d follow.  the one i’d listen to.  the one i’d leave the green pastures for.

i spent a lot of years thinking that voice was God’s and that somehow God was constantly mad at me for never being holy enough, pure enough, or whatever enough. i didn’t really know what God’s real voice sounded like.

then, i started into a more intentional healing journey to get free of some of the crazy shame baggage i was carrying.  during this process i started to hear a different voice–a voice of love and hope and freedom.  a voice that brought life instead of death and peace instead of despair.  i realized that for so long i was always running off with the stranger, thinking it was God.

my friend and co-author of come with me, elaine hamilton & i developed this chart for the material that helps discern the difference between the condemnation of the evil one (the stranger) and the conviction of the holy spirit (the shepherd).

it can be really helpful when we’re learning to strain to follow the shepherd instead of that oh-too-familiar stranger. in reflecting on this today i look at the “stranger” side and think how familiar these voices used to be & how i could go to church, be in countless Bible studies, and not really know the shepherd’s voice.

that’s messed up!

i know some people in church like to spend a lot of energy focusing on satan and spiritual warfare and the battle being waged against us.  i’m not dismissing its importance. i see it up close and personal all the time, my dear-friends-on-the-journey-who-only-hear-an-ugly-brutal-voice-in-their-head-telling-them-they’re-worth-nothing.  my hope, though, is that instead of spending a lot of energy yelling at the stranger to leave us alone that maybe we need to spend more of our time & practices helping people learn to hear the shepherd’s voice more clearly so it becomes far more familiar.

i’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this.

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other bloggers participating, check out their posts:


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • I’d add one thing to the voice of the Stranger: I think he’s always pressuring us to compare ourselves to other people, so we either feel superior and proud (God, thank you that I’m not like other men…) or inferior and hopeless (why even bother trying?). Either way, we start to lose sight of our own walk with God. Instead we spend our energy moping or pointing fingers all around and patting ourselves on the back.

  • Hmmm…this post is just what I needed. Thanks.
    A friend said, the other day, that the fruits of religion are fear, guilt, shame and condemnation. Freedom continues to beckon. 🙂

    • thanks, katherine. yeah, isn’t that sad. i’m almost 100% sure those weren’t the fruits Jesus had in mind 🙂

  • I’ve wondered who it is that some folks are listening to. Wow! The idea that we can be listening to the wrong shepherd, the evil one who is posing as the Good Shepherd is kinda mind blowing!

    Maybe the wrong shepherd doesn’t always succeed in stealing our faith, but I wonder if he does often succeed in getting us sidelined – we spend our days and years sitting in countless “church services”, committee meetings, political rallies and so on instead of getting to know people so we can actively engage with and love them.

    It’s so easy to decide that erecting another million $ building and sending $ to some far away place are going to spread the Gospel. Maybe we’re just building structures where we can go sit for more meetings and hide out from people. Sounds like a good way to side-line us! Since there are several hundred thousand church buildings in the USA, I’m guessing this tactic works really well.

    I’m reading “Come With Me” as well as “Down We Go” and will post reviews of both books when I’m finished. These are books that I’m reading a few pages at a time so I can think about and digest what I’m reading.

    • that’s an excellent point! all the ways we get lured away from “life”, real life. i look forward to hearing some of your thoughts & reflections on down we go & come with me, too.

    • thanks, bill. getting ready to read the other posts tonight, i look forward to it.

  • Ok, so I’m going to go through and read those links you posted, but right now ( seeing as it’s late at night and I’m tired and impulsive) I’m going to pose a question to you. I want to believe in God. I really, really do. I’m trying very hard to do so. But there’s…….nothing. A brick wall. Shouting into the vastness.
    I’m not living a life of despair, there’s nothing terrible going on; I’m not aware of any baggage I need to get rid of. I just feel a real blockage between me and a belief in God.
    I said that I had a question, but I’m not sure what it is now. I’m not saying that it involves a ‘spiritual battle’ or anything that dramatic, but in your experience, is there any particular direction I could go in, do you think?


    • hey eva, thanks for your honesty. oh you are in good company on that one and i’m sure there are others who might have some other perspectives but i do know that for me when i have been in seasons where i just can’t hear anything at all, like at all, it’s somehow a matter of waiting & being open to experiencing God in less-likely places than normal. sometimes i go through seasons where i do what is called a “daily examen” a practice where we look back on the day and maybe notice where we felt or experienced God in some way, shape or form during the day. sometimes things that i wouldn’t normally put on that God list sometimes come to life in those moments, little simple things that help me somehow feel a little less alone. sometimes, too, when there’s a lot of spiritual shifting & deconstruction going on for people, i encourage friends to look for areas of passion/life/goodness and pursue those intentionally in some shape or form. surprising things can happen in other not-usually-perceived-as-spiritual areas that to me, is somehow God-at-work. peace and hope from colorado. thanks again for sharing, sometimes the internet is so limited so please forgive me if anything sounds too simple!

      • Thanks so much for ypur reply; I googled ‘daily examen’ (as you do!) and have been reading all about Ignation Spirituality- fascinating.

    • Eva, I’ve been thinking about your post since I saw it. Like you, I often feel as though there’s nothing out there. I’ve had agnostic “droughts.” I think the common Christian answer is to try harder… more Bible reading, more fervent prayer… which seems to work in reverse for me. I feel inferior and I quit.
      For me, when I’m getting nothing, I stop trying so hard. My prayers get really simple; more like meditation. I think about people I love, and sometimes I switch to a one-word prayer: HELP! (Oh, and I’m not averse to telling God that I’m mad at Him, either.)
      Here’s the great part: after a long time, sometimes, I feel peaceful, I have a great idea, or an answer pops into my head. That’s God. There’s no voice in my head, and (so far) nothing happens to notify the media over. I just know God is with me, and He cares. That’s my experience. I enjoy it while it lasts, because for me, it’s fleeting. BUT I don’t forget it! (It’s like knowing someone loves you because they said so as you left for work. You don’t need them saying I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU all day to know you’re loved, right?)
      Eva, I want you to know that you’re definitely not alone. I didn’t realize God was talking to me until a fairly short time ago. (I’m glad He’s patient.)

      • Carrie; thanks so much for that. You make a lot of sense. I’ve been reading your blog ( sitting here for 5 minutes peace in a coffee shop) but I can’t comment using my worpress account onnmy iPad- the Eva is me 🙂

  • Great Post, Kathy.

    Extremely helpful chart, too. I printed it off and am going to make it available where I work as I see this confusion all over the place. Thanks!

  • Oh this is such a hard one for me, actually. It is interesting, though.. Before I started my intentional healing journey (um, late Dec last year?…), I feel like I wasn’t plagued with the the chanting of the familiar stranger.. More mainline negative thoughts and “never enough” words…but *nothing* in comparison to the intensity of the volume now. I don’t think that it is any coincidence, for sure. I need ear plugs in more than just arena ;). Really, though, I am seeing how much I need to hear the voice of the shepherd, as I just feel a little lost in the stranger’s echo.

    • thanks, stacy, for sharing. yeah, i think sometimes when we open up certain doors to change & healing the roaring can get a lot louder, that’s for sure. i like the direction you are going on really trying to somehow hear the shepherd in the midst. it is the voice that heals & restores & brings new life.

  • Kathy- definitely so right on to call that voice the stranger. I am with you on it being someone all too close to ourselves in actuality, amazing how the stranger always knows just the exact ways to slice and dice us to pieces mentally and emotionally. Patience stands out to me in your words, and isn’t patience something we all want NOW!!! lol

    Eva- your words hit me deep. I am an ordained minister but have had a very rocky road even when I was in seminary and on staff at a church. God can seem absent so much, even when you are seeking to live and be all about Him everyday of your life. You share so openly and honestly I hope in some ways unique to you that God speaks to you so it reaches you as you need for it too. Kathy is an awesome helper in the journey so cool you found her blog!!!

  • Just read the pdf doc – amazing how we listen to the voice of the stranger and allow that to become part of us – bringing the truth into the light, may the shepherd’s voice gently scream the truth to us, piercing through the darkness


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