Eugene Peterson’s Run With the Horses found me the summer of 2021, a few weeks after an emotional meltdown on the shores of the Florida Keys. Our family vacation had been too long and too full. Tension was high and being the family thermostat, I was over it. The sun was beginning to set over the water, but I was headed the opposite direction, fuming my way toward the parking lot. A few weeks prior, I’d had an epic outburst in my driveway, milliseconds after tapping the back of my car into the side of my daughter’s car. A month before that, I’d noticed the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
I was getting my butt handed to me in the parenting department, resulting in massive dysregulation and disappointment. Throughout my 24 years of motherhood, I’d been relatively self-assured and quick to assume I knew what I was doing. Suddenly, I was questioning myself and my appointed role nearly every day. It was frustrating to feel inadequate in a role that had always felt comfortable. It was heartbreaking to view my home as depleting and unsafe.
Life as it’s Supposed to Be
My façade was calm and collected, but my insides were in perpetual frenzy. I resented the challenges God had allowed, how they made me feel uncertain and dependent. I longed for the good ol’ days when the kids were small and eager to follow me like a row of ducklings. I often imagined life as it was supposed to be—easier, happier, better—and on days when imagination was impossible, I’d picture myself running away from home. This state of being made Peterson’s book even more appealing.
“Run with the Horses”? Fabulous. How far from home can we run?
Flight. That’s my instinctive stress response. When stuck or uncomfortable, I make adjustments, change direction, learn something new, cut the BS, or shut down the dysfunction. I don’t stay. And that’s fine for circumstances where loyalty isn’t necessary, but a mom must stay. I wanted to stay. Run with the Horses was about learning to stay. It was just what I needed.
The central character of Peterson’s book is Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet. Struggling with his calling, or more accurately, the challenges of his calling, Jeremiah is questioning the value of faithfulness. If constant opposition and feelings of defeat were going to be part of the daily grind, why not abandon his unique calling and live faithfully in the status quo? It’d be easier. God calls Jeremiah out with a question: “If you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5, The Message) Peterson elaborates, “Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit…retreat…run home? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously?” (pp. 21-22)
Jeremiah was the one for the divine task, and conversely, the divine task was for him. There was no substitute. He could choose to disconnect from the reality of his design and live a tame life, or he could courageously commit to living out the faith adventure that would require him to give it all and feel it all. Yes, he would get knocked down and his message would be rejected. Daily. Most days, it would feel like he was failing, or at the minimum, doing it wrong. This dehumanizing experience would eat away at his tethers to God, self, and safety, causing him to question himself. Daily.
But God had a plan for daily restoration. Each morning, Jeremiah was to come to him, pushing his weary soul close. And each morning, God would renew Jeremiah for another day. God wasn’t calling Jeremiah to a life of comfort; he was inviting him into closeness. In all things, good, bad, or ridiculously hard, the invitation was a rhythm of return, restore, respond, repeat. The invitation was the same for me.
I had a daily prayer practice, but most mornings, my prayers began and ended with the same “unquenchable thirst for wholeness” (p. 15). I wanted closeness with God. I wanted my calling and my role as a mom. I wanted faith so strong I’d run with the horses, but I also wanted to feel strong and capable. I wanted my obedience to pay off. I wanted all to be well and feel well, because then I could do all God was asking of me.
Each morning, for 23 years, Jeremiah came before God with the same curiosity and openness he’d had on day one. I’d been coming to God with indignation, resistance, and, in my weariness, self-pity. These are natural reactions to the disorientation of crisis and the disconnection of loss, and they have their place in the process of recovery, -I believe that. But there is a time for these emotions and it is shorter than we think. A shift was needed. Not in my situation, but in me.
A few months after my meltdown in the Florida Keys, the Lord asked if I was ready to surrender my anger toward him. Was I ready to accept his will and stay in it, even if it didn’t look and feel the way I wanted? That morning, I surrendered my pride and outrage, my demands and the puny bit of power I was so sure I had. Within hours, my confidence as a mom was obliterated by new events and my discomfort was magnified. Two years later, my prayers are still heavy with hope, but they are no longer burdened with bitterness.
Not what you expected, is it? It’s not what I expected either. But this much I know: God is here, so here I will stay.
Peterson’s definition of the purpose of prayer is this: “Search for that center in which God’s will is being worked out…and work from that center.” (p. 150) In other words, search for God wholeheartedly, right where you are. Live deeply and expectantly, right where you are. When tight spaces press you to run, run to God and stay there, undistracted by life behind or ahead, imagined or supposed. Life at its best is life with him. That is the promise of faith.
“When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed” (Jeremiah 29:13, The Message).