It’s just a tarp, why are you so afraid of it? For the love, it’s hay, you eat it every night, it’s not going to attack you. That was a tree, ya dummy… These are all phrases that I’ve not only said before but that have taken up permanent residence in my everyday vocabulary. “Why,” you may ask, “am I saying these things, and to whom am I addressing them?” The answer is a simple, six letter, two syllable word: horses.
After working with horses for the better part of 6 years I have not only come to realise some pretty significant similarities between horses and people but also parallels between horses and myself. But the number one thing that I’ve learned about (and that I want to talk about right now) is fear…
Horses are prey animals and such they are habitually afraid of everything. And by everything, I do in fact mean everything: I’ve ridden horses that are afraid of their own shadow, plastic bags, and hiccups. Fear is a survival instinct for horses, it wakes them up and lets them know when it’s time to get the heck out of dodge. It also shuts down the rationalizing part of their brain so the only thing that they can think about is getting to safety. They don’t take a moment to think about if that plastic bag is actually capable of eating them, much less if it’s truly alive in the first place. They don’t think about the person on their back and how they’ll feel about being run through hundreds of tree branches. They don’t have a moment in the middle of their terror where they stop and wonder if maybe what they’re running from isn’t actually scary at all. They just run.
And so do we. Whether your response to fear is fight, flight, or freeze, we react without thinking, and often we continue to act without thinking. When fear enters our lives our response is self-preservation. We look out for ourselves, we focus on getting to safety, and we don’t take the other people around us into consideration. We just run. We run to comfort; whether that’s other people, food, alcohol, solitude, or anything else that numbs the prickings of fear. Because no one likes to be afraid, no one likes to feel like they’re out of control, and no one likes to feel like they are being chased.
Fear is a powerful feeling and not one that we like to experience. However, it’s a part of life that we must learn to deal with if we ever want to actually live our lives and not just get through them. When it comes to horses this means that as the rider and leader you need to show the horse that you aren’t going to ask them to do or go near anything dangerous. You have to point out that what they perceive as a threat is actually harmless, and you have to prove to them that even if it was something truly scary, you’d never let anything bad happen to them. Essentially you have to show them that you’ll take care of them and that you truly want what’s best for them (even if that’s terrifying at the time).
If you think about it, that’s all we want too. We want someone to come along in the midst of our fear and say, “It’s okay, I’m here for you and I won’t let anything happen to you.” While we may try to fill this role with any number of vices and virtues, there is only one person that can meet every requirement and check every box. That person is Jesus Christ. He came so that we no longer have to live in fear or apprehension about the future. He covers our fear in the perfect love of the Father and walks alongside us through the valleys and he calms our frightened hearts. In Isaiah 41:10 God says to Israel, and to us:
“fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
So how do we begin to overcome our fear, instead of letting our fear overcome us? The answer is a four letter, one syllable word: love. Now I’m not talking about the earthly love that we spend our lives giving and trying to receive. I’m talking about the perfect, fear destroying, hope increasing love that only comes from God. 1 John 4:18a tells us that:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
However, just like the horse has to choose to trust that everything will be okay, we also have to choose to trust God that everything will be okay. We have to trust that he has it all under control and that even when everything within us screams for us to run in fear, we can remain where we are because we are covered in His love.
Today choose to trust the leader and lover of your life. Choose to stare fear in the face because you know that you belong to one that is more powerful than fear. Choose to run not away from fear, but towards the love that is waiting to comfort your every apprehension. Don’t live anxiously friends, live loved.