Run Faster. Run Farther. Breathe Deeper. (Animal Instinct Trilogy, Part 2)

Hiker who is also a photographer climbing to the top of a large stone cliffside with a river below

[This is Part 2 of Animal Instincts Trilogy.  Also read Part 1 and Part 3.]

I stepped out of my comfort zone one day and walked into a GRIT Cardio class at the gym.  Well, I wasn’t out of my comfort zone as much as I was out of my lazy zone, but that's another blog.  Either way, the cardio class was still pushing the envelope for me.  GRIT Cardio is a high intensity, teacher-based, half hour span of utter desperation.  After every 1- to 2-minute set of jumps, squats, planks, donkey kicks, and other humanly impossible actions, I wished I could claim my incessant panting as sufficient aerobic exercise for the day.

I realize there are certain humans who can manage this insanity while hardly breaking a sweat, but I'm not one of them.  These other humans somehow reached a point where executing the unnatural movements of GRIT Cardio was not as heavy a burden for them as it was for me.  It still takes effort, they still get a workout, but they can perform each set with better composure than I can, and their deep breathing is much more refined.

Maybe Shrek, a Merino sheep, felt like I did in my cardio class...

He carried an unusually heavy load every day in his mid life.  You see, his wool grew and grew, as wool does on sheep, and it grew heavy because he lived without the care of a shepherd.

When he was 3 years old, Shrek figured out how to avoid the shearer’s blade when he ditched the flock to hide out in the mountain caves of New Zealand.  Yes, like his DreamWorks namesake, Shrek grew accustomed to living on his own.

Merino sheep are actually good foragers, so, as far as sheep go, you might think he had an advantage.  But Merinos need their wool shorn at least annually, and Shrek managed to elude his owner for 6 years before he was finally found.  By then, his fleece was no longer white as snow and he supported 60 pounds of wool with every step.  That’s about 6 times the amount a typical Merino would boast before a trim.

Shrek’s wool was heavier than half his body weight!

He burst into stardom when he was found in 2004.  He was such a hit, New Zealand’s TVNZ televised his shearing live for the world to enjoy.  [The original televised shearing is no longer available online, but you can watch this condensed version instead.]

At that time, he was nearing the end of a Merino’s typical life span of 10-12 years.  But he lived to age 16 and was finally euthanized to end the pain from age-related illnesses.

I don’t know why Shrek left the care of his shepherd, but he did.  He decided to wander and live life his way.  But, as a result, he carried the heavy and unnecessary burden of his overgrown fleece.  Sometimes we wander, too.  We don’t always mean to.  We just do sometimes.

I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
Psalm 119:176

Sometimes I want to do my own thing – escape the rigorous Christian life for a while.  It’s in my nature.  If you haven’t already read it, take a look at the first post in this trilogy.  It's about freedom, but also how we sometimes feel comfortable on the leash of sin.

Shrek seemed a bit stubborn, like he had a mind of his own.  He was not in tune with his shepherd.  And when it was finally time for his shearing, he resisted.  He didn’t want what was good for him because he didn’t want the correction.  He preferred to keep his fluffy wool coat even though it was awkward and heavy.

When we resist God, we bring unnecessary hardship to our lives.

Sometimes we look back and wonder, “What was I thinking?”  Our wandering doesn’t make sense.  Our resistance is counter-intuitive.  Yet when we think about Israel’s 40-year wilderness wandering and their resistance, we’re almost judgmental.  And the Disciples – we wonder why they just didn’t get it.

But I think we can look back at our own missteps and wonder the same thing.  I know this is true for me.

Paul admitted the difficult battle that waged within his heart:

For I have the desire to do what is good,
but I cannot carry it out.
For I do not do the good I want to do,

but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.
Romans 7:18b-19

We fight a losing battle when we face our issues without God’s help.
And when we lose sight of Him, we carry unreasonably heavy burdens.

The Disciples were caught in a storm at sea and they rowed frantically.  They rowed and rowed for over 3 miles.  They rowed for their lives.  In the dark.  They were fighting a losing battle against the wind and sea…until they saw Jesus.  He walked to them…on the water.

The moment the Disciples welcomed Jesus into the boat, they found themselves on shore.  They didn’t need to row!  They just appeared on shore.  (See John 6:16-21.)

Jesus told us we don’t need to carry unnecessary burdens:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Even the hardships that come with following Jesus are, as He puts it, “easy” and “light.”  Really?  Easy and light?  I mean, it doesn’t take long to list all the things that are hard in life.  How many can we think of just for today!

But Jesus’ yoke is bearable because He carries the heavy end.

Sometimes when I’m very tired heading into Bible study, I’m amazed that God gives me the energy to lead, listen, and respond.  Jesus carries the heavy part of the yoke and that allows me to keep my eyes and heart open.

Sometimes when I stumble into discord, God handles the hardest parts of the altercation and I savor a deep breath of relief.  During those rare times when I’ve allowed God to calm me and to give me love, I have been the recipient of a light burden.

Shrek carried an unreasonably heavy load.  But when he was found, his owner was overjoyed and Shrek received the royal treatment.  He was allowed to become a celebrity with a public shearing.  The royal treatment might explain why he lived to an exceptional age of 16 years.

Like Shrek and the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), we too have a loving Shepherd who continually extends His open arms to us as wandering sheep.

When we return from wandering, we find a Shepherd waiting.

Back side of a young boy walking on a path with a walking stick
Sometimes our wandering is extensive.  Sometimes we stray only for a couple of hours.  In either case, Jesus is waiting with open and eager arms to receive us.  In fact, He rejoices in our return more than He rejoices over the many who already rest in His care (Luke 15:4-7).

He's waiting in anticipation to forgive us, and we can stand alongside Him under His yoke instead of ours.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just
and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Forgiveness.  Less burden.

Even more, with Jesus as our Shepherd, we “lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1).  Psalm 23 reminds us of some of the benefits we have as Jesus’ sheep:

  • We have everything we need
  • We enjoy the best pastures
  • We have courage for all situations
  • We live a fulfilling life

When Jesus is our Shepherd, we not only carry a lighter load, we live an abundant life (John 10:10).  We still have some burdens, but our Shepherd bears most of the weight.  The burden of a shepherd is a burden his flock does not have to bear.

The burden of a shepherd
is a burden his flock
does not have to bear.

It’s easy to be like Shrek.  We see greener grass elsewhere.  We resist what we don’t like, even when it’s good for us.  But we have a Shepherd who cares about us and cares for us...if we let Him.

Jesus will carry the bulk of our load, and we can run faster and farther, and we can breathe.

This was Part 2 of Animal Instincts Trilogy.

Read Part 1 and Part 3, and more blog posts here.

Read more blog posts here.

If you want to know more about what it means to be a sheep with Jesus as our Shepherd, please email me at

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