I have a confession to make. A confession that might shock even some of my own friends and family, who know me as a person of indomitable courage as well as a lifelong horse enthusiast who’s been riding since age ten.
You see, at one point not so many years ago, that horse-loving, not-afraid-of-anything young woman was terrified of simply sitting on a horse.
(Stick with me. I’m going somewhere here.)
It started when my health began to slide in 2013. As my body weakened, I could no longer withstand the physical forces of a moving horse or of gravity tugging my torso away from vertical. A leisurely trail ride became a rollercoaster without seatbelts; a five-foot-two horse became a narrow-ridged mountain surrounded by an abyss into which I might swing at any moment. The very thought of mounting such a perilous post made my heart race and my limbs shake. And did I mention the rollercoaster-mountain has a mind and emotions of its own?
Yet I kept coming back. Partly out of a sense of duty. But mostly because I felt that if I quit, I might very well never find the joy of riding again. And deeper down than my newfound fear was a dogged desire for that joy.
And gradually, over the course of months and years, with the help of a shorter, calmer horse, physical therapy, and the patience of my riding instructor (God bless her), I improved. Not enough to be as strong or as daring as before, but enough that riding was once again therapy rather than torture. And with every lesson I’ve gotten better.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should keep coming back to the things that terrify or otherwise stress them out, or that doing so will always help resolve their feelings. Some things just aren’t worth the time or repeated stress. And if they are, it might be best to seek professional help or counseling. Sometimes I wish I had.
My point is that some things are worth persevering for. In fact, most worthwhile pursuits require perseverance. And there are cases in which perseverance pays off.
I can think of one of those things. The biggest, best, most worthwhile pursuit of all: Jesus.
The Christian life is all about following Jesus. Sometimes the journey gets painted as a rosy, straight, gently-sloping, ever-upward stroll to Heaven’s gates. And it’s true that, through the Holy Spirit, Christians always have access to joy, peace, hope, guidance, and strength on our way.
But in reality, the road can be dim, steep, and rocky. Sometimes we get lured off the path by temptation, stuck in mires of doubt and despair, attacked by enemies, knocked down by tragedy, brought to a standstill by fear, or simply worn out and slowed down by the effort of doing life on this fallen earth. A map of our progress often ends up looking like a series of rises, dips, loops, and squiggles. (Lots of squiggles. Very wild squiggles.)
So what propels us through all this? What will bear us along and finally deposit our bruised, weary feet and dazed heads on Heaven’s doorstep – to be washed, healed, and welcomed to eternal glory?
I think it will be our sheer love for Jesus. A love deeper than doubt or fear. A love that, even when our hearts are racing and our limbs are shaking at the mere thought of all we must face in life, compels us to get back on the rollercoaster. To keep pursuing Christ’s presence, to keep seeking His will, to keep doing life with Him no matter what that life might throw at us.
So cultivate that love. Focus on getting to know Christ better by studying His Word and talking with Him through prayer. Apply His principles to your life, seeking to honor Him in every area.
You won’t always feel like doing it. You won’t always experience passionate zeal or warm fuzzy feelings as a result. But as long as you keep taking steps toward Him, He’ll take steps toward you. As long as you focus on hanging on (and getting back on when you come off), He will carry you. Even through the darkest, roughest parts of your life.
So hang on. Remember His promises. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His own love for you.
And remember: “Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, CSB)
Last week was my last riding lesson of the fall 2020 session. To celebrate, my little class headed out of the arena for one last trail ride.
We emerged from some woods into a wide, rolling field that begged for a gallop. Not being advanced enough riders for such antics, we contented ourselves with a stroll along the field edge.
As my horse swung along at a merry clip, I could feel joy rising inside me. My head was high, my arms loose, my body rocking gently with the horse without lurching, sagging, or overreacting. I was wild and free again!
Suddenly, Della seemed to stumble under me, then scramble. At first I thought she’d tripped over a fallen branch – no big deal. Then, as she danced sideways, I realized she was spooking – and promptly lost my composure.
I leaned forward a little too far, was flung onto Della’s neck, and was saved from sliding off face-first (something I’d done a few years ago courtesy of similar poor spook-riding techniques) by my sidewalkers and my instructor’s hand on my chest.
There was a moment of nervous jokes and smiles, a damage assessment (no injuries), and a reassembling of positions. Then my instructor asked, “Are you ready?”
I felt a little of the old tension in my chest – the old what-ifs. I quickly cancelled that train of thought, breathed, and focused on toning my muscles. “Yes.”
Off we went again. And bit by bit, the joy returned.
But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.Philippians 3:7-11 (CSB)