What do you do when you follow a star and land in a stable?
Our senior pastor posed that question recently. While his sermon gave three simple points based on the story of the wise men searching for Jesus, I actually came up with my own (somewhat sardonic) list:
- Lead the animals to safety
- Muck out the stable
- Prepare the stable
- Examine and brush each creature
At first, the list was just a snarky joke to an unusual question. But then I realized there were some important life principles.
We all have the stars of goals in our lives. We do everything we can, pay every price, gather every gift to go where these stars lead us. But sometimes, like the magi with Herod and his advisors, we take a wrong turn and end up in a dirty, cold stable of a mess or situation that isn’t what we wanted.
The above bulleted list actually provides high-level instructions for doing the work of trying to fix a situation.
Lead the animals to safety
Review the situation. It will probably, unless you’re a hermit, have people in it. Each person can be represented by a different animal, and each animal will have a different personality under pressure.
Your sheep are calm and passive and never fight. Your donkeys dig in and kick back if the only thing that’s wrong is the oats are in the wrong position. Your cattle are silent and strong, yet produce the milk of constant effort. Your birds twitter and tweet, and their song may or may not be helpful to the work effort. Your camels may be solid in doing the heavy lifting in a situation, but every now and then spit out a bomb of negativity.
Before you do anything, you have to assess that the animals are safe and will not be intentionally harmed by your efforts. You may even have to separate some animals until the situation is under control.
Muck out the stable
Iyanla Vanzant always says, “Do the work.” In any bad situation, there will be three areas that require an effort from you to effect cleansing.
Decisions that led you to the stable: You have to review the map you used and ensure that it is based on the directions in God’s Word. Most of the time, detours into stables result from not checking if the path is God-approved. You can’t fix the past, but you can apply what you’ve learned to the future.
Results of the detour on your heart: You will have the dust of worldly cares, the cuts of selfish behavior (yours and others), the bruises of unwise decisions. The balm of the healing in God’s Word has to be applied in these areas. Without healing, hurt increases and can yield a harvest of more stable muck of bad decisions and wounded souls.
Your attitude toward the situation: A bad attitude is like manure; it sits in a pile, does not move, and stinks up everything in a ten-mile radius. Shoveling out the manure and turning it into fertilizer requires planning based on God’s Word and the wisdom contained therein.
Prepare the stable
You will need to get the stable situation ready to receive the animals that require refreshment. After all the muck and grime have been cleaned out, you have to prepare the area for others.
Lay the straw: Laying straw isn’t about ensuring people in the situation are comfortable. It’s about ensuring the atmosphere is full of love. But love isn’t about feeling good and loving all the choices that were made. Real love is about truth and measuring behavior and interaction against truth as contained in God’s Word.
Put out feed: Look at what each of the animals (AKA personalities) in the situation will need. Review God’s Word and find examples that provide answers to the direct needs.
Fill the trough with water: Each animal (AKA personality) will have an area in the stable where they struggle to adjust. You will need to provide encouragement for them to persevere. From the well of God’s Word, find Scriptures that water the dry areas requiring perseverance.
Examine and brush each creature
We can’t help others until we’ve helped ourselves. But once we’re on the road to hygiene and sanity, we need to serve others and reach out. We need to look at the people that are in our stable. We can’t protect them forever. We need to look at our relationships with those animals.
We need to look for wounds or disease that result from our unwise words and decisions and offer the medicine of repentance and asking forgiveness.
In the absence of wound and disease, we brush the good relationships through investing ourselves and our time in them. We do what we can to meet needs and maintain a right relationship.
When brushing bad relationships, there are two options. The first is to keep the animal out of the stable in the cold to prevent further muck from accumulating in the stable; this is accomplished by ending the relationship in a mature, Scriptural way.
The second option is far more difficult and yet the highest, most loving. In it, you send the animal to be fostered at another stable that can brush it properly. In effect, you admit that you are powerless to change the situation, and the relationship needs fostering through counseling, therapy, or some other intervention.