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Growth is hard (and other things we know but don’t like)

“I want to bridle you,” God announced, to which I replied, “But God, won’t that destroy the person I am?”

And God said, “Yes.”

Which did not seem at all like good news to me.

I happen to like my unbridled life. I like being able to go where I want to go and do what I want to do. I don’t live in open rebellion; there are no big, obvious sins. I just like doing things the way I like doing them. I have yet to figure out what a full plate means (can’t you just get a bigger plate?). I might whine about my frenzied activity and run a few people over in the process but I happen to like my life.

What is so wrong with that, God?

To which God reiterated, “I want to bridle you.”

All I could think of was one of those horses at the fair attached by a chain to a metal pole, forced to walk in circles while scared children get their pictures taken on them. Please, God … not that.

But God didn’t seem phased by my concern, so now I’m having to learn what this means. It turns out that good bridle training isn’t about control at all. Good bridling doesn’t work against the horse but in partnership with him. A bridle is what creates the relationship between a horse and rider. Without a bridle, there is no relationship, no ability to guide the horse in the direction you want him to go.

A webpage about bridling sounds suspiciously more like discipleship than horse training: “The principle foundation in a true bridle horse is spirit, heart, and relationship. While nature takes care of building the spirit and heart in a horse, the horseman is responsible from birth for the relationship … A true bridle horse is a true partnership, where both the horse and the rider understand each other well enough to work as a single thought.”

Let that sink in: Good bridling is a true partnership, where both partners understand each other well enough to work as a single thought.

Is that what God is asking of me? To sync up our relationship such that I actually take on the mind of Christ? Learn to think his thoughts and then move by them?

If this is what God means, then this word is brilliant. And it gets better. There is a kind of bridle-training called relationship riding which uses a bitless bridle. That means the guidance is not pain-based or fear-based but a kind of communication between horse and rider built on trust and respect. “This is a process that builds relationships gradually—there are no shortcuts,” a website teaches. “The journey is as important as the destination … Constant feedback is a key requirement for success.”

“I want to bridle you,” God said, and that has launched me on a most remarkable season of spiritual exploration. In the process of figuring out what God means, I am discovering the strength and beauty of spiritual discipline. I’m discovering that if growth is hard, it is also fruit–bearing.

In fact, I am now convinced that discipline is not only the key to spiritual maturity and effective fruit-bearing, but also the root of all joy. It is exactly what Jesus said: the secret is in the abiding, not in the accomplishments but in a relationship that is in rhythm with God’s ways and in sync with his commands.

It is a true partnership, where both partners understand each other well enough to work as a single thought. In this kind of partnership, the journey is no longer a fight against a rebellious spirit. It is something more like a dance. It is the best kind of intimate relationship.

Bridle me, Father, and make my life worthy of its Master.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus.

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Holiness is at least this: a design of life that exposes us most fully to the heart of a good, loving and creative God.