“Stubborn as a mule!” I have heard that saying several times in my life, sometimes in reference to me. The words are usually said in frustration, and a mule was not something I enjoyed being compared to. Several years ago I was listening to a sermon, and the preacher referred to himself as a mule. The illustration was used that God had to pull this person around to get him to do what God wanted him to do. The sermon struck a negative chord with me. I struggled thinking, “Wow, God must hate struggling with me.” Because I am a farm girl, it made me think of my own negative memories of dealing with animals that were out of control or obstinate. In the moments of struggle with them, I did not like those animals, and it was usually a very frustrating and stressful situation. The speaker’s analogy in the sermon left me feeling like, “How could God love me, a mule?” But because God is gracious and loving, he did not leave me with these thoughts. Instead, he gave me an image to replace the one that left me with such self-loathing. Having grown up on a horse farm, I have many memories of the way my dad handled horses. Our farm was for Thoroughbred broodmares, which means the horses were used for breeding not riding or racing. Usually in the springtime mares would begin to have babies and my dad would begin handling them soon after birth, in order to socialize and train the foals. A foal is not born ready to be led to the barn or have a halter on, or to have a saddle on its back. My dad loved his horses and genuinely enjoyed getting to know them, and he developed relationships with each horse.I watched from season to season as my dad taught these young frisky horses how to act. The memories are beautiful images in my head that have grown more precious with my dad’s passing, and the spiritual analogies that God has shown me. Dad would lean over the top of the foals and almost hug them while they were hooked to a halter and a shank. He would walk with the foals and put some pressure on them to walk with him. As the foals grew they would become more difficult to handle becoming what I would call teenage horses. With teenage horses dad would increase the pressure he placed on them, sometimes having to put his full body weight on the young horse’s back. Depending on the age and personality of the horse, some were easier to handle than others. In the evenings when it was time to enter the barn I would often look out and see my dad struggling with a young horse who was trying to buck him off its back. There are so many spiritual lessons in that for me. How often am I stubbornly trying to resist the pressure of the Holy Spirit that is leaning on me, for my own good? How many times have I tried to buck God, who is trying to mold me into an easily led servant ? The young horses don’t realize that breaking loose from the grasp of the trainer means that they could run out in the road (which is dangerous) or miss feeding time in the barn with their mom. As I reflect further, I think about the faithful, calm mares on our farm. As the horses would age, become accustomed to the routine, and become more familiar with the affections of their trainer you could see them change. The older mares on the farm trusted my dad.They trusted that they would be cared for and that at the end of the path to the barn, they would find a clean, warm stall and sweet horse feed. My dad could lead a mature mare in with one hand, matching her steps, with no tension on her shanks and no pressure on her back. It was like the mare was comfortably strolling with my dad and definitely not being pulled along. However, just like people, special circumstances could stir even a calm mare. We had mares that would flip out at the sight of a horse trailer, and it would take a team of people to load them. A stray dog, fireworks, loud noises, a loose foal, etc could make even the most gentle mare forget all of her training. How often am I like a spooked mare? A little trouble comes my way, an uncertain future, a change of my plans, or something doesn’t go right, and I forget the trust I have for my shepherd. I forget that he always has my best interest at heart and even though I have lost sight, he is guiding me to green pastures and right paths. What a beautiful thought that I am not a burden to God or an annoying, stubborn, out of control animal. I am like a well-loved Thoroughbred and my shepherd is lovingly willing to train me to become a faithful servant who trusts in him, and leans into his promises of provision. He delights in my training, and is patient with the process.
Psalms 32: 8-10
8) I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will give you counsel and watch over you.
9) Do not be like the horse or mule,
which have no understanding;
they must be controlled with bit and bridle
to make them come to you.
10) Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but loving devotion surrounds him who trusts in the LORD.
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