The idea of visiting “cowboy Jim’s ranch” appeared to be a great adventure amongst my city-slicker friends. The realistic struggle to maintain my “manly image” during this adventure never occurred to me until hobbling up the horse while friends watched from a distance. Jim and I prepared to “rustle up cattle” very differently… Jim eats sawdust for breakfast (he likes it), wore cowboy boots and matching hat. I like powdered donuts, skinny flat whites, wore sneakers and a beach hat. Two men riding, 30 cows to bring in… and something told me my image was about to take a beating.
Jim took off in a gallop, my horse elected to join the “fun”. Enter the “image score sheet”: My knuckles went white, I desperately clasped onto the reins, personal sensitive areas were taking a cruel beating, and I heard a hollering yell and discovered it was me. I was trying to look like “cowboy man” but everyone saw it was a depressing sight. My saddle began sliding sideways so I called out to God! Finally, Jim slowed and wandered back to the group of friends, my horse followed. As soon as I felt in control I started playing the proud cowboy again- sticking out my chest, smiling, commenting in the deepest voice I could muster, “Good ride Jim… good ride.” I walked with my legs in the shape of a U for a week but my image, my “score sheet”, was beginning to balance out.
I recently recalled my horse riding adventure in light of a story in the Bible where Jesus is talking to a crowd. People handed Jesus a coin asking a loaded question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” Looking at the coin Jesus replied, “This engraving- whose image and name is on it?” “Caesar’s”, they responded. Jesus said “Give Caesar what is his, and God what is his”. The crowd was speechless, each knowing the basic Biblical concept that we are made in God’s image and therefore we belong to God.
As I considered my own image, my latest “score sheets”, I found this concept of my identity being tied into the image of God fantastically freeing. Maintaining a particular self-created reputation or image, or even keeping mental tallies on wins or loses, just makes me proud or depressed. But receiving God’s image and identity for me brings freedom and joy in everyday ways. I don’t have to take myself so seriously because I can’t add to that image, nor take it away- just live within it to enjoy it best. Put in “cowboy Jim’s” language, that’s worth “saddling up” for, I’ll take that “dusty trail”, I can “ride into the sunset on that”…(isn’t’ that how the best cowboy stories finish?). Ok, I’ll hold-up there. This city-slicker is out of cowboy words.