"If you told me a year ago she'd be so collected, so attentive at a show, I'm not sure I'd have believed you," I told Crazy Love's new owner.
Crazy Love has been a resident at the barn for a couple of years. When she first arrived, she was not a full participant in the dance between horse and rider. She had her very own ideas about what she wanted to do, not walking being chief among them. She fussed and fidgeted, doing interesting mystery gaits and most certainly not responding to her rider.
But after months of riding her, of listening to her, of discovering her cues and allowing her to learn rider cues, she not only flat walks, but does her other gaits quite well. And she does it with different riders - no small feat. She's a great horse, one I love to ride. I know how far she's come as a horse, and I realize she's changed me as a rider.
While there are basic riding cues for horses, they are individual creatures. Some are smart and can almost out-think a rider; others are, well, more challenged between the ears. Some horses are great balls of energy, ready to go and go and go; others are convinced that walking three feet will exhaust them. Some need more finesse; others need more strength. Riding means, at one level, realizing how your cues, your approach to riding, needs to change from horse to horse.
How I rode Crazy Love in the first months of our relationship is not how I ride her now. She has changed, and I have changed. If I insisted on riding the horse she is now with the techniques I used way back then with her I-don't-care-to-walk self, I would limit her as a horse and likely be very unhappy with our relationship together.
Because I would be refusing to change as she changed.
Change, we know, is hard. Which is certainly counter-productive to life. Our experience with God through Holy Scriptures is filled with change - Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, people move from slavery to freedom, Jesus moves from death to life. Women and men with sketchy pasts become guides for the people of God into and through change. Peter, who throughout much of the Gospel story is frequently reckless and clueless, changes into the Rock on whom the church is founded. Saul, persecutor of those early ones following the Way, is changed into Paul, the church's premier letter-writer, church planter, and perhaps first theologian.
Change is part of our relationship with God and with each other.
And yet we seem to resist change in our relationships, binding them with our own needs and expectations instead of allowing them to shift, move, and grow as we do. I've written on this subject before, but with the regularity in which change and resistance to change causes distress in people, it's an issue worth talking about, again and again.
I wonder how many relationships come to a distasteful and hurtful end because one or both parties become uncomfortable with growth and change and insist, over and over again, by thought, word, and deed, that things go back to what they were? I wonder how many people never allow their ideas and experiences with God to move past their initial encounter with the Holy One?
In my own experience in conversations with clergy, many of us reflect on congregants who become disenchanted and angry with us as relationships change because a church grows or shrinks, because the pastor we are in our early years is not the pastor we become, because changes in our personal lives (we marry, divorce, have children, or any number of other changes that occur in our real lives), or any number of reasons. People who begin to address issues in their lives, from familial histories of addiction to their own personal behaviors that are soul damaging, often find those who are closest to them become angry as they heal...because healing always brings change. Relationships between parents and children change as children grow and parents age, and strife and angst becomes a partner in those relationships.
How many of us hold God in the tight constraints of early stages of faith, where God is a stern parent, a wish granter, and religious authority and insight is almost always out there and refuse to allow ourselves and our understanding of God to be changed with God's grace?
Holding our relationships in the containers in which they initially arrive into our lives may feel comfortable. Of course when we experience a relationship adjusting and changing, we may initially feel fear, sadness, and perhaps even anger.
Why is this happening? What now? And why can't we stay the same? may all be our prayerful laments.
We can resist the change, rail against it, and demand the other stay put in the conformable old container. But almost invariably those demands end with distortion and death of the relationship. If we are the ones who are changing more, we can be tempted to force ourselves to fit into something that no longer allows for breath and life to placate another's angst. And if we are the ones who are resisting the change, we can lie ourselves into believing we have a right to control another. And most likely, we are at times in both roles.
What if we followed the examples of women and men of faith and saw change not as evil, as the enemy, as something to be rail against, but a holy part of life.
People change, we change, relationships change. And if we refuse to allow relationships to shift, grow, and change, we certainly miss out. I wonder how many people stay focused on the cross on Good Friday and refuse to experience the change of Resurrection? The grace of God, amazingly, does not change, even when we are too wounded to move into newness and need to stay in our safe containers for a while.
In the midst of some changes in relationships related to my clergy life that are a bizarre combination hurtful and downright absurd, I rode Crazy Love one afternoon. She noticed my stress, as horses do. All the changes in my clergy life were impacting my riding life, and I was riding her with my wobbly and unsure soul, until she changed and decided to remind me of who she could be (in not a particularly good way), as if she wanted to tell me not to be tempted to respond to these changes by recoiling into a person I was not.
She shook her head and snorted, another reminder that she expected me to be the rider and person I was.
I shifted in the saddle and collected her in her bridle. Go forward, not back, I reminded myself as I cued her into a canter.
"There you are," heard her say. "Now, let's ride."