When I was in a group-therapy session once, the therapist took us outside, into a field where there was a horse. She’d placed a half dozen, sealed buckets of oats around the field and said if we wanted to walk the horse we should pick up a bucket in one hand, then guide the horse anywhere we wanted.
When we were done, we could offer the bucket and the horse to somebody else in our group.
As each member of the group guided the horse, the therapist would ask us questions about how we were feeling. One girl discovered she had an incredible fear of strength and she didn’t know how to trust it. Another man discovered that he was too domineering and because he didn’t know how to work with strength rather than try to dominate it, he was getting less productivity out of his staff.
When I guided the horse, I learned nothing.
The therapist said I was good with animals and asked if I’d ever had a horse. I hadn’t. I was quite proud, actually. I’d finally passed one of the therapists little tests. Or at least I thought I had.
When I was done, I walked over and offered the bucket and the horse to a woman in our group who explained that she’d take the horse but I could keep the bucket. I said to her we were supposed to carry the bucket and she said she didn’t want to and simply took the reigns from my hand and walked off.
Our therapist stopped the action and asked why we’d all thought it was necessary to carry the bucket. I told her we thought it was necessary because she’d told us we had to. She then looked at me and asked if I did everything I was told, even though it made no sense and did nothing to serve me or anybody else.
I felt a little tricked, to be honest.
But as she went on, her words began to ring true.
How many burdens are you still carrying that your parents wanted you to carry just so they could feel powerful?
How much work are you taking on just so you can people please?
Why are you carrying buckets through life when you don’t need to carry buckets?
Why do you give people so much authority in your life when they don’t have your best interest at stake?
Why is your security coming from obeying people who are only bossing you around so they can feel their authority?
What would it look like to put your buckets down?
Hokey as it all sounded, it helped me.
I grew up going to church and though church can be beautiful, I’ve noticed religious communities are especially adept at getting people to carry buckets of guilt and shame around. After the horse experience, I decided to leave the guilt and shame with the church and walk off with Jesus.
Of course this makes people mad because they feel like we are supposed to carry buckets of guilt and shame but the truth is we don’t have to.