Once upon a time, I wanted a horse. I wanted a horse so badly I could barely stand it. Every night I begged my daddy for a horse, and he laughed and said, “Maybe when you are ten. Maybe then you can have a horse.”
Well, I wasn’t ten. First I was six, then seven, then eight. Ten seemed like a century away, but still I yearned for a horse. So I decided to get ready for my horse. I checked out every book in the Claxton Elementary School library about horses, and I learned about Black Beauty, about Misty of Chincoteague, and about Stormy, Misty’s Foal. I doodled horse names in my journal and won the second grade young author award for my own story about a horse. I dreamed horses and read horses and wrote horses and watched horses on TV. Oh, how I wanted a horse!
Finally, I was nine . . . and I began counting down the days until I got my very own horse. I couldn’t wait! As fall turned towards winter, the winter when I would finally turn 10, my dad broke the news to me:
I was not going to get a horse. Maybe later, but not then.
I was heartbroken, so I did the only thing I knew to do: I prayed for a horse. I prayed and I prayed and prayed. I prayed in the morning and at night. I asked my friends to pray at church. I prayed as never before.
And then I took my prayers to the next level. On Christmas Eve, before a candle light service at church, I took a plastic horse my friend Marcy gave me, placed the horse on my bedroom floor, and put some saltine crackers from the kitchen on the floor in front of the horse. I got a plastic Tupperware container, the largest I could find, and I filled it with water. I put that in front of the horse, too. I cleaned up all of my toys that were around the horse, and I spread towels across the floor. I surveyed the scene, satisfied. And then I knelt down by my bed, and I prayed again:
“Dear God, I know you can do anything – ANYTHING – so I know you can bring this horse to life. Christmas is a season of miracles, so will you give me this miracle? Will you please, please bring this horse to life while I am at church? Please, please, please?”
My mom was calling for me to get into the car, so I kissed the horse’s nose, carefully shut my door, and skipped down to the car.
At the Christmas Eve service, all the kids were excited, but no one was more excited than me. When the service was over and all the adults lingered to talk, it was all I could do not to blurt out: Santa, Shmanta, who cares . . . we’re getting a horse!
Finally, the whole family loaded up. Finally, we drove down the long country road to my house. Finally, my dad put the car in park again. Finally, I ran into my house.
Picture for a moment this nine-year-old girl, really picture her. I was so full of expectant hope, so certain of desired result. Picture me as I bounded through the door, ran up the stairs, flung open the door to my room . . .
and found a horse, still plastic, standing next to an untouched bowl of water, an un-nibbled plate of saltines.
I want you to be tender towards little-girl-me for a moment, and I want you to feel my heartbreak. I had always heard God could do anything, and I was so certain he was going to answer my prayers; so positive he had heard the desires of my heart. Can you imagine me, prayers and effort depleted, picking up my plastic horse? Can you see the salty tears leaking questions down my cheeks?
It’s easy enough to be unkind to this child, easy enough to say that my prayers were stupid, my hopes immature. And yet, Jesus was not unkind to me. Not at all. He did not give me a living, breathing horse that Christmas . . . but he did give me questions, questions that turned out to be vital to a living faith. And he also gave me an invitation to slowly let go of a magic-Jesus that expired with childhood and walk with a God-Jesus who could carry me through trials much nearer than I could have guessed. At nine, this wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but God knew my future and knew I would need to know Him as more than Santa in the very near future. And so, he let the horse stay plastic, so that the girl could grow.
I don’t know why I’m sharing this story with you today, other than to say that sometimes we’re all left cradling our horse, still plastic; sometimes we’re all left asking questions too big for us to know. Maybe that’s where you are today, wondering who this Jesus is who claims to raise the dead to life but can’t breathe life into your own cherished dreams, your own well-intentioned hopes. If this is you today, can I encourage you? Don’t be unkind to yourself or call your dreams stupid or your God inept. Instead, know that it is he who is holding you, tender, inviting you to deeper grace.
Mark 10:13-14: And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.