When I bring the feed buckets out and my horse doesn’t come to eat… something is wrong. So, when I went out to feed on Monday and I could see her, looking at me from the corner of the fence, but not making any moves to come eat, I went over to see what was wrong. She had somehow managed to get her front feet half-way through the wire fence. When I say half-way, what I mean is, not only was the front half of her body in the fence and the back half not, but she had some wires behind her front legs, and a few in front of her legs. She was half-way through the fence in every possible way.
Fortunately, she has a great head on her shoulders and, realizing she was in a pickle, she didn’t opt for the standard fight or flight responses—she stood stock still until help arrived. Good girl!!!
Now you would think that, with that much common sense, the rest of the morning would have gone easily. You would think…
I got her out of the mess she was in easily enough. Fixed the fence. And then went to doctor on her wound. Considering what it could have been, it was nothing, really. But she definitely had cut her leg up on the wire before she realized she was stuck and it needed some attention. This is where things got difficult.
The same horse that so patiently and gently trusted me to help her out of predicament, would not trust me with her pain. She wouldn’t even let me touch that side of her body. She struck out at me with her front (wounded…so obviously not too wounded!) leg, swung her body into me, bit at me, reared up, pulled back… You name it.
Now, to be fair, she didn’t actually try to make contact with any of this – they were warnings, not an intent to harm. But it was a very serious warning.
At first, I got annoyed. “Knock it off!” “You know better than this,” I’m thinking…and probably telling her. Clearly though, she wasn’t really thinking rationally in that moment. And I wasn’t going to be able to rationalize with her anymore than I was going to be able to force her to be still.
It was tempting to be angry that she wasn’t behaving. It was tempting to take it personally and take offense—you know, the old, “I feed you and take care of you ever day… I have never once hurt you… Why don’t you trust me?!” line of thinking.
But then I took a step back and tried to see things from her perspective. It’s not that she was hurting all that badly (again – it wasn’t a deep or very significant wound; she wasn’t limping or sore, and she felt good enough to use her leg as a weapon) it’s that she was aware it could hurt. She knew she had a wound. She knew she was vulnerable there. She was afraid that she would hurt and so she was just protecting herself. All of her actions were about her fear, her lack of trust…they weren’t about me at all.
They weren’t about me, except for the sad reality that we don’t have enough of a relationship yet that she trusts me with her pain. I haven’t had her all that long and we haven’t ever been in this situation before. Not to mention, she is very much a lead mare—which means she is the one the herd looks to for leadership, protection and safety. Contrast that with my geldings who are used to trusting in the lead mare—it’s easier for them to trust in me, too. She isn’t used to trusting in anyone, and I’m asking her to trust me, not only when she’s stuck and has no choice, but also where she is hurting, when she does have a choice.
And here I come, trying to just get the job done and being a little pushy, not really listening to the heart issues going on. So I slowed WAY down. I started to just love on her, on her “good” side, where she didn’t feel threatened. Then I moved to the wounded side, but stayed away from the wound. Let her feel that I wasn’t going to push her to be vulnerable before she was ready. It took some time for that to be okay, but she got there.
I was tempted to just let it alone. It would probably heal just fine on its own, anyway, and I had a lot to do that day. But I felt that, even though the wound care itself wasn’t that critical, what was critical was that she learn that I could be trusted with her pain. It was critical that she learn that I could be gentle and loving…that she could be safely vulnerable with me. This was an opportunity to help heal that area of mistrust in her heart that I didn’t want to miss. An opportunity that would only come through injury. I was surely never going to cause her harm to get there, but now that it had happened, I was sure going to use it for good.
It’s been a few days now, and the change is dramatic. She is very aware that she is wounded there, very aware of what I’m doing, and a little cautious, but trusting. She has not once been aggressive. She lets me take off the dressing and inspect it and touch the area to check for fever, etc. She lets me put on medicine and new bandaging. The thing that stands out the most, however, is how she is when I’m done. All the while I’m working on her, she lets me, but isn’t completely at ease. She is choosing to trust, but nervous. She is being VERY brave, putting her wounds in my hands. And afterward, after I’m done and she realizes that, once again, she was safe, once again, her trust paid off—she is so tender with me. She is affectionate and humble with me in a way she’s never been before. I truly believe that she is aware that I am trying to help her heal, and she is grateful for it.
Maybe I’m reading too much into things. Maybe. I confess a total annoyance at those Facebook videos about animals where they emotionally manipulate you and tell you how the animals feel—“And now Sparky is grateful for his new forever home and knows he never has to be afraid again.” I mean—yeah, maybe, or maybe you’re just anthropomorphizing to manipulate your audience. And here I am, totally doing the same thing. Except, I truly don’t care to manipulate anyone’s emotions.
So maybe I am reading too much into her responses, maybe I’m not. Actually, I don’t really care to make a point about my horse, or horse training, or human-horse relationship dynamics…. That’s all great, but what I do want to do is to draw some parallels to our relationship with God. And in this context, maybe you can grant me a little leeway with the anthropomorphizing, because I’m really not talking about the horse, so much as I am using her as an example to talk about us and our response to God.
But first off, let me interject for a second here something about our relationships with each other. So often we get around someone who is lashing out at us, and we want to get annoyed, angry, insulted… any number of hostile reactions in response. The thing is, maybe it isn’t about us. Maybe it’s about their pain and their vulnerability. We may not even see the wound (we probably won’t) but sometimes we are getting too close to it and they go into self-protect mode. It can look like they are being aggressive towards us, but often they are just warning us to back off and leave their pain alone. If we can begin to see that, we can change our tactic, our approach, see things from their perspective, and give some grace.
So, what about when we are the ones who are hurt?
We may find it easy to trust God when we are stuck and have no choice. We may think that means we really trust Him. But it’s important to realize that trusting God when we are stuck and have no choice is not the same as trusting Him with our pain. All the more so when we have a choice—because with our pain, we often have a choice. We can face it and look for healing, or we can ignore it, hide it, hope it goes away on its own.
God doesn’t cause our pain, but He will gladly use it to teach us that He can be trusted with our vulnerability and our hurt.
God may be relentless (from our perspective) in wanting to address our wounds—wounds which we think aren’t such a big deal and will heal on their own. The thing is, He knows it’s more important to build trust between us than it really is to dress that wound. He also knows that the wound is a golden opportunity to build that trust. It’s His love and wisdom that won’t let these little opportunities go. Not only does He love us enough to want us to heal well and quickly, but He loves us enough to persist in gaining out trust.
When we do finally let God near our woundedness, and find that He is gentle and tender and patient and kind with us—our natural response will be gratitude and humility…. It will be love. Is there anything that softens your heart and breeds love towards another like finding they are tender and trustworthy with your brokenness?
God is the great physician. As I work with my horse each morning, and as I see the sweet changes in her affection and yieldedness towards me, I am being gently prompted by God to bring Him MY hurts. I think I feel him whispering to me that it’s not just about healing those wounds, but about our relationship. He wants to show me how tender He can be with me. He wants to bring forth that sweetness in me towards Him, that sweetness of gratitude knowing I can trust Him with the most tender, painful, vulnerable parts of me. He wants me to love Him more. We can respect and admire and even obey the Lord without this process, (just as my girl obeyed and respected me). But love – LOVE comes when we see how He handles our woundedness. Love comes when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with Him and find that He is safe and kind and tender. And if I can learn to do this with the small wounds that don’t really hurt that bad, it will be easier to do with the wounds that are excruciating. It will be easier to trust in His love when the treatment itself is painful.
Sometimes I confess the practical side of me kicks in when I realize how important it is to learn this now…because no doubt there will come a time when I have a wound that is serious. Something which must be treated lest it consume or kill me. And If I haven’t learned to go to Him with these little things, how will I trust Him with the big ones?
I heard of a woman, a friend of a friend, whose husband died. The cops came to the door to tell her the news and her first, immediate response was: “Please excuse me. I know Jesus and I have to go talk to him right now.” This is someone who had learned to trust God with her pain. Someone whose first response was to run to Him with her wounds, trusting Him to treat them.
I see that motivation. It’s been one I have thought of before. I’m practical like that. I want to do the right things and I see that this makes sense…learning to trust God with everything. Preparing for bigger problems by learning to handle these smaller ones well. But what my horse awoke in me this week was the longing for love. The longing for that affection and tenderness between two people that only happens when we put our hurts, fears, woundedness, brokenness, shame…everything about us that hurts, everything about us we may prefer to hide…when we put THAT in someone’s hands and find we are safe, loved, and even helped.