Have you have considered the impact we might have in this world if only we truly loved others in the way God loves us?
Maybe you feel like you’re doing a pretty good job at loving well. I certainly thought I was doing a good job until I realized that my kind of loving well is hurried, selfish, and agenda-driven. It’s been about my needs and desires. It’s about how I feel and what I want out of the relationship.
On closer examination, maybe that’s the how you’re loving others, too.
It’s what we’ve been conditioned for in this instant-gratification culture.
It’s a kind of love that is totally different from what God demonstrates towards us and calls us to live out in every relationship.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
As my friend, Michelle, tells me again and again, “God is a perfect gentleman.” She is right. He is kind, patient, long-suffering. He isn’t rushed. He doesn’t have an agenda. He takes us as we are . . . wounded and wandering, distracted and defensive. He waits for us to be willing to receive His love wholeheartedly without any compromise. He retains hope for what we are to become, even when we can’t see it for ourselves.
The way God loves us is the way He wants us to love each other.
But darn, it’s hard. Love is a two-way street, where you can’t control the traffic in front of you, behind you, or coming at you. You have to respond to what is rather than what you might want it to be.
That’s a truth I’m sitting with after an experience with Michelle and my youngest daughter as we interacted with a big black horse named Oynx. Yep, a horse.
It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you choose to work with a horse that has an opinion of his own.
Our plan was to catch Oynx out in his pasture and spend a bit of time doing some Natural Lifemanship work to build a connection and help him cultivate better ground manners. Natural Lifemanship is a form of trauma-focused equine-assisted therapy and coaching used with clients seeking emotional, spiritual, and relational growth as well as healing from any kind of trauma. The Natural Lifemanship approach is not only great of humans, but it is also excellent for horses because it fosters a trust relationship and requires them to use their brain at a higher level as opposed to living in their lower brain stem (fight, flight, or freeze) mode. As you can imagine, a horse that can respond to situations and people well is a horse that will have a much better life. The same could be said for people, right!
While we thought our work with Oynx would take place in the round pen, the real work happened from the moment we took him from his pasture and he refused to move. He planted all four hooves firmly in the mud. Head held high and back, pulling on the lead rope in the opposite direction we intended to head, making us highly concerned he might rear up and hurt himself or us.
In the world of horsemanship, there are dozens of different ways this situation could be handled, kind of like parenting. Our Natural Lifemanship approach might not have been the first choice for most, but since we were seeking to build a trust relationship through equal cooperation rather than forced compliance, we chose to respond with just the right amount of pressure and consistency as we waited and watched.
We looked for signals of stress or fear and responded by regulating ourselves with deep breathing, striving to not let our frustration escalate his emotions.
By the way, this a great technique to put into action any time we’re in a conflict situation!
With each deep breath, we followed with a bit of pressure as we stood in a safe distance near his hindquarters and clapped to raise our energy level. He’d take a step. We’d release the pressure as his reward. He’d drop his head. We’d ask for a step. He wouldn’t move. We’d start all over again.
We prayed and plotted our next move as we applied rhythmic, predictable, and patterned pressure, which helps brain development in both humans and horses.
We continued to show Oynx some love with a scrub on his neck and belly and kind words encouraging him on. We got curious about his story. We looked for his cues. We responded with compassion. We let go of our agenda. We believed in the best for him.
We stayed consistent until Onyx finally trusted that walking with us was a good thing.
It sounds lovely, but the truth is that each of us struggled to manager our frustration we took turns with the lead rope and experienced what felt like a personal rejection. We had to remind ourselves this wasn’t about us. It was all about Onyx.
As the dance pressed on from five minutes into ten, ten into twenty, I realized how hard it is for me to act with that kind of objective truth and love-soaked kindness toward my kids when they ignore my instructions, resist my lead, and refuse to trust I know what’s best for them.
How about you? How often do you get as irritated as I do, rather than leaning in with love?
And likewise, how often do we resist when God gently leads us out of our comfort zone?
Just like Oynx, we may be determined to turn back to the pasture because familiar dirt appears to be better than the uncomfortable unknown.
But God is kind. He is patient. He is long-suffering. He is willing to wait on us until we trust in His love eternally.
It took an hour to get Onyx to the round pen, which should have been a two-minute walk up the hill. I stood at the rail, watching Onyx fully connect with Michelle as he followed her every step around the pen. No halter. No lead. No pressure. He completely chose to be connected, no longer ignoring or resisting.
Tears streamed done my face as I realized afresh that love happens in the muddy, indirect, unplanned pathways of our lives.
It turns out that it wasn’t a wasted hour. It was a relationship-building investment bathed in Patience. Kindness. Compassion. Long-suffering. Accepting limitations. Acknowledging wounds. Without an agenda. Without rushing. Without demanding a response.
Imagine what that would do for building trust in our relationships . . . for being God’s love to each other.