Shortly after I began college, I went with some acquaintances on a short trail ride. I hadn’t ridden a horse in a long time, but I was glad for a reprieve from “busy-ness” to do something that I enjoyed.
When we arrived at the stables we found the horses already saddled and standing ready for their riders. The trail leader, whose name was “Walt”, promptly introduced us to the horses, sharing the names of each of them with its prospective rider. Cottonball was a white, round mare. Jake was an older, chestnut colored horse. The others were Roundup, Flower, and Bub which was Walt’s horse. The trail leader paused a moment, however, when he came to me and the small black stallion that I stood by, as if he were sizing me up.
“That’s Blackberry,” he remarked with a wry smile on his face. “If he gets a little antsy, it’s usually a good idea to let him have his head.”
“Um… thanks,” I returned, wondering just how “antsy” Blackberry might get. The horse swished his tail but said nothing unusual for horses. He just snorted and looked around, giving his long mane a shake as if he were laughing at me.
The others mounted and, in spite of a sudden sense of foreboding, I went ahead and climbed into Blackberry’s saddle. We followed Walt down a faint path that led into a wooded area. Just as we came fully under the trees, Blackberry unexpectedly turned and began to make his way to a sunny spot off the path in which some tall grasses were growing. I pulled the reins to the left in an effort to turn him, but he obstinately resisted and continued on his way. I then pulled the reins up to try to stop him and that’s when he gave his first kick. The horse’s back bucked up with me on it, tossing me a few inches into the air.
“Oka-a-a-y,” I sighed to myself, loosening up on the reins. Blackberry reached the grasses and took a leisurely bite. I let him take another and then tried turning him again. This time he cooperated. I pressed my heels into his side… gently, and said, “Giddap!” He trotted quickly back into line and I thought we were going to get along famously after that.
A few miles later, Blackberry decided to stop for another snack. After allowing a few bites and noticing that the line of riders ahead of us had disappeared beyond the trees, I encouraged Blackberry to move on.
“C’mon!” I snapped. He ignored me. I pulled harder on the reins and pressed my heels into his side. “Giddap!” I barked. He glanced back towards me, snorted, and kept eating. I pulled forcefully on the reins and gave him a light kick with my heel (no stirrups were on my feet in case you wondered).
He lowered his head sharply, paused a split second, and then threw it back and began bucking. I had never ridden a bucking horse before so didn’t really have a lot of knowledge or experience to guide me. I did have a plan though. My plan was to not fall off. I stopped trying to control him and focused on keeping my center of gravity above him so that every time I became airborne (which was about every half second), I would land back in the saddle. I didn’t fall off and he eventually stopped bucking. He took a few more bites (to prove his point, no doubt), and then turned back towards the trail and followed the others.
Soon we came to a straight stretch and Blackberry began to trot. His trot quickly became a canter, and as my anxiety began to increase, I instinctively began to rein him in. He slowed down some, but he tossed his head and tensed up like he was thinking about losing his baggage once and for all. I immediately let him have his head.
He went back to his canter and then into a full gallop. We soon caught up with the other riders just as they neared the end of the trail and rode in with them as if nothing had happened. The only evidence that anything had was Blackberry’s heavy breathing and a film of perspiration glistening on his coat. Come to think of it, I was perspiring a little too but it wasn’t because of exertion!
“So you made it,” Walt commented with an amused look on his face. “Usually I have to go back and pick up his rider.”
I nodded and climbed off Blackberry wordlessly. I stroked the horse’s neck. “See ya,” I said and then walked to the car.
On the few times that I’ve ridden since then I have always been reminded of Blackberry. There have been a few times, too, that I’ve thought of him even when not riding.
These moments are usually when, in my walk with God, I find Him leading me inexplicably in a direction away from the one I thought I ought to go.
In my enthusiasm to be fruitful for Him, I sometimes strive to move on to the tasks and opportunities that I think will be most worthwhile, but find myself steered circumstantially in the opposite way. Then, when I try to “take the reins” and change my course, He reminds me that He’s the Boss. Then I strive to simply keep centered on His “will for the now” instead of my own ideas. When I do so, I find that I do not have to worry so much about getting bruised and battered or about having to “climb back up again” into His will for my life and ministry.
There are moments, also, when I find that His leading in my life is picking up speed and, although I may at first try to rein Him in, the best thing to do is just hold on and trust Him to take me where He wants me to be.
Above all, whether we are feeling like God is holding us back or is moving us too fast, we must remember that His love for us is absolutely perfect. I have no illusions about Blackberry’s affection for me: only my own sentimentality would have me think that any existed.
But the Bible paints on the canvas of our hearts a clear picture of God’s love for us using the vivid colors of His faithfulness throughout the history of the world. At the center of this painting is the cross upon which Jesus died. When I see there all that love has done for me, I know that His daily leadings in my life are always right and good.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:11-14, 16a ESV).
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 22 ½ years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.