Last week I took my daughter horseback riding in the Smoky Mountains. Despite my rugged Marlboro Man-like appearance, I had never actually been on horse a day in my life. But how hard could it be, I thought. They stick six-year-old little girls on these things and cut them loose in the forest. For a wild frontiersman like myself, this would be a piece of cake.
When I met my horse, Miko, however, I suspected I might have some issues. All the other horses were ignoring their riders. Miko kept trying to eat me. He could smell the granola bar in my pocket and didn’t know how to take no for answer. By the time we actually started our ride, my clothes were soaked in horse slobbers.
Jessie, our trail boss, walked us through a few basic instructions before we left. If the horse stops on the trail, give it a kick. Need to go right? Pull the reins right. Want to go left? Pull left. If it goes too fast, yank back on the reins, but if you keep yanking, it will go in reverse and will run you off a cliff and kill you.
She didn’t actually say the cliff part, but I think it was implied.
We weren’t on the trail two minutes before Miko decided he needed to take the lead.
I pulled back the reins, but he just bristled his head and ignored me. I could tell he obviously respected my authority. I tugged again. More bristling. I think this is the horse equivalent of rolling your eyes like a teenage girl.
Then on our first hill he just decided to stop. Okay, I thought. Time to show this guy who’s boss. I gave him a little kick. Nothing. I kicked him again. Not moving.
“He’s taking a potty break,” Jessie told me. Next thing I knew I was sitting on top of Niagara falls. Apparently Miko had had plenty of coffee with his breakfast that morning which could have explained his irritability.
After we finally got going again, Miko pretty much just did whatever he wanted. Whenever we climbed a hill, all of the other horses went up one side of the trail while Miko took the other side. Whenever the trail grew steep, Miko hugged the ledge just to freak me out.
Towards the end of the ride we met another group of riders. “Here’s what I need you to do,” Jessie told us. “Steer your horse to the right side of the trail so the others can pass by on the left.”
I knew this wasn’t going to go well. When Jessie and my daughter veered to the right, Miko saw this as his chance to pass. In his eyes, the Kentucky Derby was on.
“Pull your reins to the right!” Jessie said. I pulled to the right. Miko’s head turned right, just like it was supposed to, but his body kept going left. No matter how much I tugged at his reins, Miko was not about to change directions.
So here we were, one line of riders approaching on the left, my group on the right and Miko and I taking a victory lap right down the middle.
I guess some horses, like some people, just have a hard time taking direction. Whether it’s advice from a friend or a tug on our hearts from God, sometimes we just like to do things our own way. Even if it leads to disaster.
A wise man once wrote, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”
For Miko it was a problem of trust. He knew I was a novice and had absolutely no intention of following my lead. He’d been walking that trail for years, why would he listen to me? Maybe Miko had a point.
Unfortunately, we tend to apply this logic to everyone in our lives. What do they know? Who are they to give us advice? When people try to rein us in from making dumb choices or when God speaks a word of caution through our conscience, we bristle. We stomp. We buck against the restraint.
And, just speaking for myself, I usually live to regret it. As it was with Miko, it all comes down to trust. Do I honestly believe that the God who wants to steer my life knows what He’s doing? Can I trust Him to lead the way? If so, I have to let myself be led. I have to listen to the wise correction of others. And I have to learn to tune in to the still, small voice of God.