The colors of the leaves are changing here in NC. So are my horseback riding skills.
I’ve been riding once a week since September. One of my ongoing goals has been to improve my “seat” (riding position), because the way the rider carries herself influences the way the horse carries himself. This in turn affects how well the horse-human team can perform.
Instead of just drifting along and trying to adjust everything with my hands, I’m learning to do everything – steering, balancing, etc. – from my center (core). And it’s taking a lot of practice that is slowly paying off.
Maybe there’s a change you want to see in yourself, but you feel like you’re just drifting along and twiddling with the reins, hoping change will somehow happen. Or you’ve started looking for that elusive “center”, but haven’t quite found it yet.
We might not have power over our circumstances. But we get to choose how we act in them.
Here are a few things to remember when setting out to change:
Change Starts With(in) You
In riding, if you want your horse to change, you have to first change yourself. That’s because you are the rational, decision-making member of the team. And being the object closest to the horse during a ride – a 100+ lb weight sitting on his back, legs against his sides, hands attached via reins to his sensitive mouth – your every move has a lot of influence.
This can be hard to grasp. I mean, the average horse is 1,000 lbs of potential laziness, excitement, irritability, anxiety, and just plain stubbornness – right? Yes and no. Unlike humans, horses have very sharp senses and very strong instincts. They respond to subtle changes in the environment as soon as they perceive them, without thinking.
We can influence them by making our own changes, and so redirect their attention and thus their behavior. Otherwise, they will react to anything and everything else.
On a metaphysical level, we are our own “riders”. We have a God-given will – the “I” that looks at our circumstances, thoughts, memories, and emotions and uses them to make decisions. That includes decisions that lead to new patterns of thought and behavior. Holding everything else constant, we won’t change if we don’t make a conscious decision to do so.
The only person with more authority over our behavior is God Himself. Asking Him for guidance and power should be the first thing we do when seeking to change. And building a relationship with Him and modeling His character are the first, most important ongoing changes we should seek to make.
Focus On What’s Important
Sometimes, in our quest to solve a problem or build better habits, we misidentify what’s important. We try to get the horse to hold his head a certain way when we should be asking him to lift his back. Or we try to keep our heels down but forget to keep our feet under us. As a result, we hit a roadblock or make the situation worse.
Horse trainer John Lyons once described life as a jar and the things we fill it with as rocks of different sizes. If we want the “big rocks” to fit in the jar, we have to put them in first. Then we can add the little rocks.
In other words, focus on what’s important, and worry about the rest later. Figure out what needs to change first, and what’s needed to make that happen. Then, when you’re making strong, consistent progress on that. you can address the little things. Sometimes, we might even find that in making the big changes, you’ve unconsciously resolved the little ones.
For example, the most important principles in a God-pleasing life are love of God and love of fellow humans, in that order. Pursue those, and you will end up fulfilling all of God’s more specific expectations. Similarly, the most basic Christian beliefs are summed up in the Nicene Creed. Believe those, and you are considered a Christian. In fact, most Christian beliefs follow from the foundation of the very simple and straightforward Gospel.
You might achieve something great in a day. But for “great” to become your new normal, you’ll have to keep aiming for it all the time until it becomes second nature.
You’ll likely struggle until you hit a good moment, then have some more bad moments, then hit a good moment again, and so on. But if you keep aiming for good moments, the bad moments will gradually decrease while the good moments increase.
No one goes from novice to Olympian in a day, a week, or even a month. And even Olympians have their bad days and nagging weaknesses. But no one gets anywhere except by trying. Consistently. So persist.
The apostle Paul never considered his spiritual race to be over or won until he died. Yet he kept running, pursuing God’s call on his life. He gave it his all, and relied on God to get him through. And God did.
In her Bible study Stepping Up: A Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent , author and speaker Beth Moore shares a story from her time doing humanitarian work in a developing country. While there, she learned that one of the biggest challenges to improving local welfare was that the malnourished local people would eat seed rather than planting it. They were so desperate for food that they sought to ease their short-term hunger rather than investing in long-term nourishment and income.
As she points out, we often do the same in our spiritual lives. We can soak up as much wisdom, inspiration, and even Scripture as we can hold. But unless we “plant” it – devoting it to memory, meditating on it, studying it, applying it – we won’t see long-term results. We’ll be as hungry and fruitless as ever once that first meal wears off.
So let’s plant the seed. Let’s turn down ourselves that new path and stick to it. Let’s seek God’s strength, guidance, and grace to keep us going.
And enjoy the ride.
What changes do you want to see in your life? What steps can you take to keep investing in that change? How can you invite God to play a role?