I opened the door to the barn, and as if on queue, the barn erupted with braying, squealing and clucking in anticipation of breaking the night’s fast. However, within the cacophony I could hear one holler in particular that indicated a potential problem. When I investigated, sure enough, there was a kid goat whose head was thoroughly stuck in the hay feeder. Its horns prevented it from backing its head out of the wooden square frame, designed to hold the hay in. I climbed into the pen and inspected how I might maneuver its head out and set it free. The goat however, was totally not in tune with my good intentions. As I moved its chin up, it forced its head down. As I tried to move its body backward, it moved with all its might forward. Fear made it bind to my good intention to set it free. The struggle was immense and needed to be precise. If not careful, I could easily pinch the goat’s ears between its horns and the wooden slates. Another delicate aspect to the maneuver, was to not choke the goat! So I had to hold the goat’s body firmly between my knees while lifting its chin, holding its ears out of the way and then backing its head out of the tight wooden square frame, while preventing it from choking! Navigating this delicate operation was quite a feat in and of itself, never mind doing this delicate maneuver against its equal, if not more, determination to work against me. Fear and panic blinded the goat and complicated everything immensely.
As I wrestled to free the goat I was struck at how powerful an illustration this was for my life. As a gay man, in the church, I had tried to live according to the established rules and grid of the straight man’s world. Rules designed by straight people, for straight people, and I was stuck. As I faced the journey of coming out, the means to freedom, fear and panic overwhelmed me and I struggled. As I observed the goat I observed myself. God meant this for my good, and here was I, like the goat, working at odds against God’s good intentions for me. Like in the hymn, this odd barn scenario became “my Ebenezer” to raise. Desist the struggle and let go. Entrust the process that makes for freedom to God- do not fight against it. And so, I let go. Someone once said that, “courage is fear that has said its prayers.” I moved with courage and faith that love would see me through to the place where I would be free. It required an obedience of trust in the face of huge risk- employment, friendships, family… all on the line. The lesson for me? Don’t be like the goat! Don’t be consumed by fear, rather, submit to love. Love will see you through to the other side.
It has now been two years since submitting to this journey of freedom and I often think back to that day in the barn. My fears did not come to pass as I thought they might. It has not been an easy journey, but it has been a journey framed by substantial love, and not fear. My wife Susie and I have together experienced this substantial love. We have faced truths, both hard and beautiful in this love, and we have been held. We know that regardless of the future, we are each other’s biggest champions and that covenanted love will shape our future together. It may be informed differently than what is understood in the straight world, but it will reflect truth and grace. A truth reflected in what is, as opposed to what ‘should’ have been, and a grace able to sustain it.
Observe the goat! Come out from fear and live into truth, grace and love- the evidence of God.
Written by Pieter Niemeyer