When one goes to Texas, a few things are in order.
Tex-Mex food, a cowboy hat, and riding a horse.
At least in my opinion.
So, on my recent sojourn into the heart of Texas (and a big thank you to Seminary of the Southwest for their hospitality while I was visiting Austin), I wanted to go horseback riding in the Texas Hill Country.
Mary, being the awesome friend she is, was along for the ride. Hesitantly. Warily. Even mentioning that this may be a great test of our friendship. So I booked the trail ride, we got our cowboy hats on, I pulled on my boots, and Mary asked if I could ride in boots. She brought a book, reasoning it was a 3 hour trail ride and she'd need something to do.
Such is the experience of something new.
We arrived at a ranch, 750 acres of Hill Country beauty. I told the guy leading the trail ride that Mary had no riding experience and I had limited.
Sometimes faking inexperience will get you a good, calm horse. And it did.
My horse, a stout Quarter Horse named Trigger, and I established our relationship quickly. Walk forward, graze when I allow it, and we'll have a grand time. I was not that comfortable in the western saddle, which felt like a Barc-O-Lounger on the back of Trigger, but I adapted. He seemed to be okay with it, and he is the horse.
Mary's horse figured her out pretty quickly, too. Trinity (gotta love the church name) took every opportunity to graze and even discovered that Mary did not enjoy any gait quicker than a slow walk. When Trinity wanted to graze and Mary said, "No," Trinity picked up her pace.
Mary discovered that horses and two-year-olds aren't that different. One is just a thousand pounds larger.
Riding in the Hill Country means, obviously, hills. Riding horses is frequently a exercise in trust and relationship. Riders and horses have to trust each other. Both try to exert more control than is healthy for the other, and the other will push back. Somewhere in the push and pull, both find a place where a grand relationship can exist and the ride is enjoyable.
When facing a steep hill, up or down, our human instinct is to grab the reins and go with total control. We, of course, know best.
And if we control the horse with the reins, the horse will not, as we say, "have her head." As riders sitting on top of the horse, we can't see the world at horse-level. If the horse can't see, she is likely to misplace a hoof, with bad results for all.
A way to go up or down a rocky hill is to loosen the reins, sit a bit up in the saddle to get your weight off the horse's back, and trust the horse. Giving the horse her head allows her to look down, up, and all around to maneuver herself over the terrain. Trust her, because she knows her hooves. She can see the ground in a way the rider cannot. Your job is to allow her to do what she instinctually knows how to do, guiding her gently if she needs some guidance, especially by looking ahead to what she may be unable to see.
We all go over rocky terrain in our lives. We just will. Uphill at times, descending downhill at others. God is an expect at giving us our heads and hearts so we can see and gently guiding us when we need a subtle or not so subtle tug on our reins.
People, however, are big fans of control. We may think that our view of the world, our experiences with all things rocky and unstable, are the only ways to walk. So when our friends, our parishioners, and those in our lives who are going through up and down times are walking those paths, we may be very tempted to tighten the hold by inflicting advice upon them, telling them where and how to go, often with bad results for all. While we may name our help, "encouragement," it's control, and it's not kind or loving.
Perhaps a way to be loving is to work with the person who is walking a hard path. Trust them, because most of us know our own souls. They may see a way that we cannot from our vantage point. Allow them to make the steps they need to make without judgment or condemnation. Some guidance is good, especially when we can speak from our own wounded experience. Allow those in our lives who are walking an uncertain path to have their head and their heart, and encourage them in their walk.
At then end of our three-hour trail ride, Mary was a bit more trusting of Trinity, and Trinity was still grabbing a mouthful of leaves at every opportunity. I enjoyed feeling Trigger maneuver uphill and downhill with sure hooves and decided that horses might be the best spiritual teachers I'd encountered.