There’s a story that crops up in sermons every once in awhile that you may have heard. It’s about donkeys. I don’t mean the story about Balaam’s ass, although that’s a good one (Balaam’s donkey can see angels!), but rather, a tale about missionaries in South America.
I’m fuzzy on the details of the story, because it’s been a couple of years since I heard it, but the basic plot is this: the missionaries need to get to some far-flung location, but the only mode of available transportation is a couple of donkeys. So they saddle up, but the going is slow, and the route is dangerous.
The path winds up the side of a mountain, and with every step, the animals’ hooves dislodge rocks, which clatter down, down, down and out of sight. It’s not difficult to imagine the same thing happening to a donkey and its rider. Fear – and the darkness and the treacherous terrain and their unfamiliarity with the area – cause the missionaries to grip the donkeys’ reins as tightly as possible in their hands.
The donkeys balk at the missionaries’ death grip on the reins. They stumble and bray and pull their heads and refuse to go further. The missionaries — who are just trying to accomplish some good in the world and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, dammit! — lament the fact that no matter how tightly they try to control the donkeys, they can’t seem to make any forward progress.
Going backwards isn’t an option. Donkeys don’t have a REVERSE function, and even if they did, there is no way to back up on a narrow path. The missionaries’ only choice is to keep moving forward, but the path is so rough, and the danger is so near, and the night is so dark, and the donkeys are so stubborn…the whole situation seems impossible.
And so it dawns on these folks — these well-meaning, God-loving, servant-hearted missionaries — that they have …
A Serious Donkey Problem.
I can’t remember if the solution to The Serious Donkey Problem dawns on one of the missionaries, or they get advice from a local, or an angel of the Lord appears, or what. The details aren’t really important, actually. What IS important is the solution itself. Here it is:
When the way is unclear (even though you’re out in the world trying to do some good!), and the path is loaded with hazards, and you are gripped with fear, and can’t see what’s ahead of you, and your donkey won’t move, there is only one thing to do. Only one!
Let go of the reins and let your donkey walk.
The donkey, of course, is a metaphor for life. I know you got that already.
Because as much as you might want to manipulate and manage and massage all of the elements of your existence, the truth is, you can’t. Your life is a donkey. It is willful and bull-headed and full of surprises that lie beyond your control, and often also beyond your comprehension. But it will get you where you need to go, if you just relax, and let your donkey walk.
This is much easier said than done, particularly for Type A personalities. (Not that I know any of those people…) Our instinct is to try to manage every aspect of our existence, and it is counterintuitive, to say the least, to simply let the donkey go where it needs to go, because doing so requires trusting that life is unfolding the way it is meant to. Maintaining that kind of trust can be extraordinarily hard!
But it really is all about trust, not about being passive or inactive.
Being passive means pulling the sheets over your head and pretending there’s not a donkey in your bedroom. Trust means setting the donkey on the right path, and feeding him, and watering him, and giving him rest, and allowing him the company of other donkeys who love and support him and will walk part of his journey with him. Trust lets you whisper in his furry ear, “Hey, donkey, this is where I want to end up. How we get there is going to be largely up to you, but I’m going to do what needs to be done to get us started.”
Trust means that you don’t fight the donkey.
In the middle of an already-aggravating week, I got some news a few days ago that was sorely disappointing. I was wait-listed to a program that I was sure was what I should be doing next. I texted my partner-in-crime (you met her in last week’s post) a bad word and a brief explanation, and she wrote back:
“That wasn’t your donkey.”
Succinct, no? And also true. That program wasn’t my donkey. My donkey is out there in the field, waiting for me to stop micromanaging my own life and have some faith that how I am meant to do what I am meant to do will become clear in good time. Eventually, he’ll amble over, and we’ll get started.
The missionaries got where they were going, thanks to their donkeys. You will, too, and so will I.
The first step is trust.
The second is letting go of the reins.
The third is letting your donkey walk. (He knows where he’s going!)
The fourth step is enjoying the journey.