I took my Arabian-Paint mare for a ride the other day. One of those close-to-perfect summer Wisconsin mornings called me out to join my neighbor to the north and my neighbor to the south on our trails winding through wildflowers and prairie grasses, by ponds and through forest.
Shania saddled up fine, as usual. She’s a sweet mare, eager to please. But she’s a high-wired mare also, afraid of her own shadow, focusing on everything and anything that might jump out and scare or hurt. She could hardly enjoy our ride that morning because she was on high alert, practically expecting something to go wrong. Her whole body was tight, making our ride together miserable.
Who could blame her for being scared? Early days seared her memory, making life hard now, all these years later. As if every cell in her body were marred with the experience of neglect, of basic needs not met back when she was a filly, she clings to the known of today. She clings to the sure. Rescued from starvation years ago, she seems ever caught in a mind-vice, in an unbreakable bubble, still seeking the sure that narrows her world.
Who am I talking about? My horse . . . or myself?
I think about the wounded—life’s wounded. I’m one of them. Are we not all in the same group, this group of fallen humanity where one cannot walk through life without one wound—a scrape, a tear, a gash hemorrhaging? Are we not all deep down scared to live fully because we would rather live safely with white knuckles gripping, knowing unexpected trauma might be lurking beyond the next turn?
So we go to movies and read novels and we live vicariously, wishfully, through fictional characters having more courage than we to explore, to take risks, to do ANYTHING we would not dare. We let the fake live while we, the real, wither, stay small, only wishing for more, maybe never grasping. And we gasp for our next breath while chest-tight anxiety sucks the life right out and we wonder why we let soul-withering happen.
I am done with it all!
I’m a warrior woman! A scarred warrior, I am, and still sometimes scared. But I will NOT succumb to a life imprisoned by anxiety—by fear of the what-ifs—by worry of the inevitable losses that come our way, broken humans in a broken world. I must find another way of living this life as full as possible amidst the questions and the pain and the uncertainty. Because there IS beauty here in the broken and I want to LIVE it, not just SURVIVE it. And I want to testify to truth. We can live life abundantly, right here–right now. But how?
I’m done with mind games. Positive thinking only takes us so far. And giving thanks for everything? I’m not sure about that either, really. Giving thanks for everything seems like another mind game, a gimmick. Really, I don’t give thanks for the millions of Jews tortured and murdered by German Nazis. Really, I don’t give thanks for the killing fields of Cambodia where millions were left to decay in stinking rice paddies. Really, I don’t give thanks for the millions starving to death in Africa and dying from AIDS and malaria. Really, I don’t give thanks for 9/11 where American planes were used as murder missiles and evil seemed to reign for a few terrorizing moments. I watched. In real time, I watched the planes strike, breaking concrete and glass, burning metal—breaking hearts, burning souls. I visited the graves, now memorials, and touched their names with fingers trembling, tears falling because I remember that day so many want to forget.
And closer to home, I don’t give thanks for mothers who drank while they were growing life in their wombs, damaging brains, birthing babies into a world where they won’t be able to live—ever—on their own completely. I don’t give thanks for a true Christian husband who leaves because brain chemistry goes haywire and he ends up dead by his own hand after years of stalking and terrorizing a scared woman who just wants to move on with her life.
I just don’t give thanks for any of these times of evil, these pieces of broken! To do so seems insane. Call me an ingrate. At least I’m an honest ingrate.
So what do I do with all the ugly, the painful, the tragic and what my soul knows can happen at any moment that makes me hold tight and shrink my life? Do I become bitter because I refuse to give thanks? I know how a poisoned soul shrinks and implodes. Or do I give thanks for it all and hope to feel better about evil and broken someday? Or do I find another way? Where is it? WHAT is it?
I want to expand and become free of the power that pulls down and steals joy and peace, pounding the life out of both. But I’m like my mare on a near-perfect summer day. I’m too smart, ever thinking about all that CAN go wrong, all that DOES go wrong in the world. And I can suffocate myself with all the what-ifs, unable to breathe, unable to take a step beyond my own small-fenced days to enjoy abundance given, to give thanks in daily cathedrals given by the gracious hand of God.
Like waves washing ashore on Lake Michigan seen from my house, the questions keep coming. What do I do with a world gone wrong? What do I do with myself gone wrong? How can I give thanks in the mess of life without using thanks as a diversion from the reality of pain so deep, so real?
God himself has answered me in His word. He has answered my questions and given me a key, maybe THE key to peace and joy?
Doors to infinite joy and peace open with a bended knee named humility.
In Hebrew, to humble means to bend the knee. To humble myself means to bend my knee and accept God’s authority, God’s sovereignty NO MATTER WHAT.
But I shake my fist at the heavens, demanding different too often. I cry for justice and mercy and find too little here on earth. I want what I want when I want it. And when I don’t get it? I discover I’m not so powerful, after all. I discover I’m not so in control, after all. And I don’t like it. No. I hate it. I want safe. I want sure.
And there’s only One safe and sure. Only One. And His name is Jesus. I KNOW this. But my heart does NOT want to bend its knee because my heart really doesn’t like some of what I see down here on this broken sphere swirling. I brace myself against my days thinking I can will my way through. And I find my anxiety rising along with my stubbornness. There is only one way out . . . only one way through . . .
Bend. Bend the neck. Bend the knee. Bend the heart. Bend the will.
Refusal to bend causes bracing and pain and anxiety. I know. I see it in my horse.
She prefers the dusty, fenced arena to open fields brimming with blessing? Unfortunately yes, she does, until I help her see beyond her confines. I have higher hopes for her than she has for herself. She’s scared right now and I know it. My goal is for my wounded horse, my scared mare, to heal. I want her to heal from her anxiousness, to calm in my hand, to enjoy our ride into new territory, God’s glory. I want her to canter free and relaxed with me through wildflower fields, over winding trails, past cat-tailed ponds, feeling warm summer sun on her back, smelling the sweet of prairie grass swaying in gentle breeze.
So I took Shania off the trails, back to the dry and dusty where she was comfortable. I met her at her point of need, in the small, fenced arena of her anxiety. She braced against me. Head held high in defiance, her neck stiffened, refusing to bend low, to humble herself in my hand. So I held her tight. I held to heal. I sat relaxed and held patiently. I held those reins still and strong, letting her fight till she was tired of it all, till she gave up and she gave in and her neck started to bend. And I loosened my grip at the moment she decided to bend, to humble. Because I know. When my horse bends her neck and bows her head, she trusts my hand. And a trusting horse is a peaceful, joyful horse. The more she lowered, the more I loosened. All the way down to the ground her nose went and she blew it all out, nostrils rattling—all the refusal, all the anxiety, all the tense—and she relaxed into my tender, holding hand. And then she discovered I knew what I was doing with her. Her key to peace and joy was giving in to the one who knew how to relax her in the midst of life’s overwhelming cares.
There is a lesson learned from my equine friend.
I don’t want to be like a stubborn, scared horse who will not come to my Maker without bit and bridle. I want to go through my days enjoying the ride, not bracing against every little thing that can go wrong, that DOES go wrong, thinking I need to fend for myself, not trusting. I want to focus on the One who created me, who holds me only as tightly as I need. I want to humble myself, to bend every part of me into His holy hand and heart because it is the bending, the humbling, the realizing that no neck is strong enough to overpower God’s loving hand that causes me to give in, to give up, to let go, and to experience release of all that binds this fragile heart of mine.
So the key to peace and joy?
Bending all we are into the holy hand of God whose heart is to heal, not to harm, gives peace and leads on a journey of joy. Once in proper position, once hearts are humbled—bent down—we CAN give thanks to the God who redeems ALL things, even evil things, and uses ALL for good—for HIS glory and for OUR good because, once humbled, we realize our thoughts are not His thoughts and our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8). God knows best.
Calm and trusting once more, I picked up Shania’s reins and led her out of the dusty and dry fenced lot. Her perked ears told me she was ready and wanting to go wherever I would lead. So we went for a new ride, the both of us, on winding trails, past cat-tailed ponds and I talked to her softly all along, telling her what a wonderful mare she is, telling her how much I love her. I could feel her softened neck and back, I could see her ears turning to hear my voice, listening for my direction, and I saw peace in her eyes once more. And we both felt joy.
We trotted easily together, as it should be, on that near-perfect summer day with sun shining on both our backs and August cicadas singing symphony strains. In rhythm to her gait, set to my pace, I sang a doxology for both of us—for all of us, out loud in the wild . . .
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him all creatures here below!
Praise Him above the heavenly hosts!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Can every day be a doxology ride—a journey of praises sung?
The answer depends on the bend, for human and for beast.
I will to start this day, all within me bending into the hand of the holy God who loves me. And His hand will hold all He loves, however long it takes till we learn that humbling ourselves—bending ourselves—is the key to the storehouse of His greatest treasure—the fullness of His heart from which flows the peace and joy for which we all long.
Give way, my heart and soul and mind, to the sovereign, all-good God who loves you true!
And Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’S unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Psalm 32:9-10
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14