Mules, the (usually) infertile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, sometimes get a bad rap for their stubborn attitudes. The truth is not that black and white, though. A horse will try to impress or please its owner by carrying far more than it ought to be carrying, or outworking or outrunning itself (we just watched the movie Secretariat, and that was one of the concerns was that he (the horse-Secretariat) would actually injure himself racing if they just ‘let him run full speed’ without reigning him in. So while a horse runs the risk of hurting itself, if the owner or farmer isn’t careful–when a donkey or a mule reaches its limit–it stops. A farmer, therefore, doesn’t need to be as cautious about overloading or overworking a mule or donkey. They know their limits and when those limits are reached–they stop working. Mules are also far more willing to fight off predators like coyotes, rather than fleeing or rearing up in fear.
It could be said that Mules and Donkeys have really good boundaries and sense of self. The key to setting any good boundary is just that: you have to first know your own limits. An impossible task if you are bent on people pleasing and making whoever owns you happy. And make no mistake, if you are a people pleaser (something I am intimately familiar with being myself!!)–you are owned by someone–that someone being whoever you are trying to impress or keep happy. Doing that will come at your own expense.
For a Christian this poses a real dilemma. I want to be owned by Jesus. I am HIS servant and no one else’s. But if my actions are consistently horse like; meaning I am ever willing to impress others, even if it injures myself, how can I say that I belong to Him?
As I was pondering this, I thought of the fact that Jesus rode a donkey — not a horse, on Palm Sunday. The donkey wouldn’t have agreed to that if he wasn’t up to the task. A horse, on the other hand, may have been exhausted but he would have given the ride anyway. I don’t believe Jesus wants us to serve Him or anyone else; if we aren’t truly up to the task. He desires that we get to a place of health where we can handle burdens again–before we try carrying them.
I also thought of the story of Balaam and his donkey, the donkey saw the angel of death and refused to move any further which kept Balaam from meeting the angel of death. Does it mean something that the only animal to ever be recording ‘talking’ is a donkey, an animal that will absolutely refused to be pushed beyond its own ability-to-bear-it-limits?
My conclusion is that boundaries are really, really important. Especially if you are a service animal (as Mules and Donkeys are known world wide to be). Especially if you are a servant of Jesus. Having people destroy my boundaries in childhood destroyed my ability to serve God and others without it costing me greatly.
As I learned how to be more like a Mule myself, it involved some hard choices. My horse-like brain wants to people please and make it all better again (at my own expense). It seems I still struggle knowing my value. Mules and Donkeys know their value; horses not so much. So as I made this transition to what some might call ‘stubbornness’, I’ve been called mean, crazy, rigid, unyielding, and even unforgiving. It’s ok. Balaam beat his donkey for its refusal to lead itself, and him, into death. I can expect similar treatment when I start to assert myself with people who once held my reigns.