The Dilemma of Saddling A Horse


While I am not a regular horse rider, I have on occasion over the years found myself on a horse’s back. And I’ve learned something that I think even horses know.

A horse reaches its true potential only when it is saddled properly – when it is capable of carrying someone – who knows, loves and wants to go places with him/her.

Getting a horse to wear his saddle properly can be a bit of a challenge, however. I know this because one time I rode a horse whose saddle was too loose. Let’s just say, it didn’t end well for me. I began tilting to the side till I was almost parallel to the ground and then…well, at least the ground stopped the tilting.

I’ve seen a number of folks attempt to saddle a horse and evidently this is a common problem. Most horses don’t want a saddle to fit as tightly as it needs to in order to support the rider. And who can blame them? It squeezes. Evidently, the smart ones  (which, I’ve found, is most of them…) will hold their breath to spread their gut. Then, as they walk away and can relax, the saddle fits looser.

How to solve this dilemma? I’ve seen two strategies. A saddler can repeatedly ram his knee into the horse’s side, forcing them to exhale, while they tighten the straps. The first time I saw this done, it looked exactly like it sounds – harsh. The horse and the person did not appear to have a very personal relationship. It was definitely a working one.

There is another way though.

The saddler can tighten up the saddle as much as it will go…and then stay close and wait. When they hear and see the horse exhale, they pull the straps a bit. Then they repeat this until the saddle fits properly. This method takes a bit more time. It requires the person to be attentive, patient…compassionate. In touch with the horse’s natural rhythms. To be willing to wait till the time is right and not force the issue. And the horse must learn to trust the saddler, that he has her best interests at heart.

Of course I’m painting a picture here of something of how God works in our lives. We, like horses, are created beings with great potential. And that potential must be harnessed. Saddled. For us to go places, we need a rider. And the rider needs a place to sit, a place to be close and in sync with us.

Discipleship is the process where we learn to wear our saddle properly. The spiritual disciplines are ways in which we give God a place to ‘sit’ in our lives. To lead us, to speak to us, to be present with us, to empower us to go places and do things we couldn’t or wouldn’t on our own. When done well, it enables us to become who we were created to be. It brings joy and relationship.

And yet, our first response to the process is usually resistance. We spread our gut and stubbornly refuse to cooperate. We don’t naturally like the squeezing that is required.

Which presents two options to God and the spiritual leaders in our lives, whose responsibility it is to help us learn to wear our saddle. A swift kick in the gut…or a relationship based on proximity, trust, affection and common purpose. In my experience, God almost always uses the gentle method. He even assures us that His yoke is easy and that He is gentle.

I’ve worked in discipleship ministries for a number of years and I’ve seen His people use both strategies. I’ve been the recipient of both. In my experience, banging on people may work for a little while, but it only breeds more resistance. Distrust. And this usually prefaces some sliding and an eventual crash of some sort.

And I’ve had a number of older women come alongside me for a season and love me. Encouraged me to trust them. Our relationship wasn’t always easy, but it always had an element of affection to it. I knew they had my best interest at heart and I was willing to go along with them because of that. They have been some of the most profound influences in my life – they are the reason God sits in my life like He does today.

Discipleship works best from a place of relationship, proximity, trust, affection, gentleness. For both the disciples and the disciple. 

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:29

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