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294 || Leaving The Rail: Trusting God In The Round Pen

In my years working with horses, they had always come to me.

Until today.

Only minutes ago, I had turned my back to Halsey in confidence. Now that sense of trust slipped from me like the sweat from my forehead.

The dust slowly settled, like a fine vapor, laying silence over us. As I tried to relax, I heard him behind me, breathing heavily. I waited, hoping. Please come to me. Don’t walk away.

What if he did? I groped for trust but found my hands empty. Please.

Halsey just stood there. Waiting. Choosing. A 15-hand Quarter Horse I could lead with a mere rope, yet I could not make the decision for him. I could not make him trust me.

I could only see my own failure through the rails. And I was terrified.

Stuck on the Rail

We were supposed to “join-up” as part of our training at A Ranch of Light. The join-up is the horse’s decision to trust and acknowledge you as its leader. For our “join-up,” I had taken Halsey into the round pen and directed him using only signals with my hands and the whip to gain his obedience. Now I stood with my back to him and the whip on the ground, leaving him the choice to follow and trust me or to stay in his own security.

No one had told me that my fears could form a barrier between me and my horse, restraining trust. But as I turned to face Halsey, I found my own trust deficit.

He could not trust me enough to leave the rail. He looked interested, but he would not leave his security. How could he let go of all he knew and trust that I would keep him safe, even when he had no idea where I would take him or what I would ask? How could he trust?

How could I?

As I stood in the round pen waiting for Halsey, God let me taste that bitter reality. I trust God – sort of. I know it is right to trust him. I know he is worthy of trust. I know, I know. I trusted him to do the right things, but I didn’t trust him with myself.

I tried to swallow the horrible feeling of helplessness. I have met it before—in a crowd of strangers, on the back of a panicked horse, in a pool with my friend’s pointed remarks about my “blubber,” and on a phone with the news that the guy I liked had fallen for my best friend. Oh yes, I know it well.

It was no longer Halsey clinging to the rail. It was me.

Working through the Walls

With battered boots in the dust and sweat weeping down my back, I turned away from Halsey and asked myself why – why I could not trust, why I felt so stuck, so vulnerable, so…afraid. It wasn’t from my fear of failure, my fear of not being enough – the answers I used to give myself. No, the defenseless terror came from the idea of accepting that I wasn’t enough. And stepping into trust in spite of it.

I can freely admit I’m lacking, like any Christian; it’s the Sunday School answer planted in my head. Yet I create my own works-trip of sufficiency – though I’d be the first to deny it. Me? Trying to live by works? Never! Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Oh yes, I don’t boast. I build walls. They hide my insufficiency from the world, from other Christians, and sometimes, even from myself. Because to be without them is to be vulnerable. And vulnerability means accepting the uncomfortable, embracing the unfamiliar, and stepping into the uncontrollable. Vulnerability means trust.

For as long as I can remember, I have labored to build walls, holding on to the rail even as God invited me to trust him. My own walls hold me back from trusting God wholeheartedly, even as I obey him. him. But it took the silence of the round pen to make me realize it.

Coming to the Choice

Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Halsey waited as I fit the pieces together.

A breeze, heavy with heat, brought dust to my nostrils. I coughed but I could not blink back the water rising in my eyes. Halsey shuffled and I bowed my head. God…please help me let go. Help me trust. I don’t know how…But I want to.

More tears.

Then the slow thomph thomph of Halsey’s hooves. His gusty breath filled my dangling hand. Turning, I looked into his long, golden face.

He had chosen trust.

Stepping Forward

But trust does not come in a single stride, as God showed me that day in the round pen. Join up is the first step toward trust, not the entire journey. The point is not completion, not perfection, not even absolute trust. The point is willingness. And when God asks me to join up with him in the round pen of life, that is all he wants.

Trust in God is still a terrifying unknown. But I am learning to say “I am willing.” I am learning to leave the rail. Because in spite of all my fears, God is at the center of the round pen, and he is not asking for perfect trust. He is asking me to join up.

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