Josie loves to ram things. The feed bucket. The muck bucket. The Jolly ball. Her sister lambs. She hasn’t yet head-butted me, but I think that’s because she still has a healthy respect for the hand that feeds her. Besides, it’s really just her version of play. She hasn’t a mean bone in her fluffy Valais-cross body.
Josie was born a single. Thérèse was born a twin. I do think the singles tend to be more assertive, never having had to compete for resources. Just a theory.
That said, Thérèse was having fun until she wasn’t. When the going got too rough, she turned tail and headed straight for me. When my own child, nieces, and nephews were young and horseplay got out of hand, they would invariably run to me or their moms and expect them to intervene. I was raised in a half-Italian family. My response was typically some form of: toughen up, buttercup. You can handle this, go on, go play! Then I’d send her off with a reassuring hug. I was her rock of refuge, but I wouldn’t fight her every battle. She turned out to be a remarkably resilient kid with a huge capacity to forgive and move forward in life with confidence, peace, and inner strength.
I’m going to make a big leap here. Ever feel like you’ve been rammed by God? As in, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.” Or, “that just knocked me off my feet, took the wind out of my sails, or felt like a sucker punch” (whatever metaphor rings true)? In those moments, we wonder what God is up to, why He turned on us, or why He allowed something so “rough” or painful to happen. Heck, we were just moseying along, like our sweet Thérèse, minding our own business or living out our lives…and then BAM! We’re head-butted and gutted.
According to tradition, in the last year of her life (1582) St. Teresa of Avila, a fiery and energetic Carmelite nun with a quick wit, left Avila in a horse-drawn carriage to establish convents in Burgos and Grenada (Spain). In the midst of a great rainstorm, the wheel of her carriage suddenly broke, throwing her headlong into the mud. When she complained to the Lord of the constant hardships she endured for Him, He replied, “Do not complain, daughter, for it is ever thus that I treat my friends.” She climbed to her feet, shook her fist at the sky, and famously exclaimed, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!” Even the greatest of Saints had their moments!
On one hand, the Bible tells us that those whom God loves, He disciplines. It’s an all-knowing, all-loving response to the needs of children who are “moseying along,” perhaps doing no great harm by our own standards but living outside of the Will of God. Or, in some cases, outright struggling with sin.
“Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son [and daughter]. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” ~Hebrews 12: 4–8, 11
On the other hand, I’ve learned that sometimes God, in His infinite wisdom, permits us to be knocked off our feet, though it wasn’t His holy will itself that dealt the blow. We live in a fallen world. There’s evil. There’s trouble. There are battering rams in the form of dark principalities and powers that can and do strike without warning. Jesus himself said: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” ~John 16:33
Discernment requires us to ask: is this [insert unpleasant/painful head-butt here] the Lord’s discipline at work in me or a byproduct of living in a fallen world?
In either case, the only fitting response is to run to our Father and tell Him everything. Like a discerning parent in a room full of raucous children, He knows, He sees, and He will respond with the full force of His love. He is our eternal rock of refuge. He may allow us to grow and exercise our spiritual muscles by sending us back into battle under His watchful eye (toughen up, buttercup!). Or He may allow us to suffer the consequences of our own actions so that we become aware of areas of our life that need healing, repent of our sins, and be restored in right relationship with Him.
God wants to use our difficult circumstances to transform us into saints and faithful friends. Our little lambs already seem to know that head-butts are simply a part of life as sheep with natural instincts. But for humans with souls, it’s more complex than that. Oddly enough and counter-intuitively, they’re divine invitations to growth, holiness, and ultimately, a place of eternal righteousness and peace where the battle has already been fought—and won.
Let’s take courage, buttercups. We’re His beloved children. And He has conquered the world!