“A friend loves at all times…” Proverbs 17:17
This weekend I had the privilege of speaking with a fabulous group of ladies at a church women’s retreat. We were talking about What Women Should Know About Facing Fear — how to face our fears and overcome them, so that we can be free to be the women God created us to be!
This is something I shared with them:
Believe it or not, cheetahs can teach us something about this! That’s right, cheetahs.
If you’ve ever been to a zoo or watched the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, you probably know that cheetahs are the fastest animals in the world. They have great big claws that they use to push off when they start running. They’ve got really sharp teeth. To us, they look pretty fierce.
But apparently they’re great big scaredy-cats. So scared, so skittish that they’re in danger of becoming extinct. They just don’t socialize well. They’re too nervous. Too anxious. Too stressed.
Unless they have shepherds, that is.
It’s a long story and no one is exactly sure how a phenomenon first observed in the wild got reimagined and applied to cheetahs living in captivity. But somehow someone discovered that these dogs – these Anatolian shepherds – make great companions for scaredy cats. For thousands of years, bold and courageous Anatolian shepherds have guarded sheep in Asia – fearlessly chasing off lions and tigers and bears and… cheetahs. Which has kept cheetahs alive, since sheep herders haven’t felt the need to kill them to protect their flocks.
About forty years ago, wildlife conservationists discovered that when these brave dogs are paired with cheetahs in zoos and animal parks, they function as guardians for the cats. The dogs are patient and kind. They have a calming influence. Their presence makes the cheetahs feel safe and secure. And they relax.
Over time, zookeepers have noticed that the dogs seem to model healthy behaviors like friendliness and playfulness and that the cheetahs learn these important life skills from them. (I’m not making this up.) And happy, relaxed cheetahs are more likely to be friendly with other happy, relaxed cheetahs, which leads to the pitter-patter of little happy relaxed cheetah feet – which for wildlife conservationists is the point.
Here’s what you and I can learn from them: To help us grow from scaredy-cats into lion-hearts, we need to pair ourselves up with some shepherds.
We all have the Chief Shepherd, of course. But He’s given us others – brothers and sisters in Christ who are bold and courageous. These people have a calming influence on us. They make us feel safe. At the same time, they model for us confidence and courage. They teach us how to be brave and take risks and (gasp) have a little fun ourselves!
I love how Pam Farrel says, “My closest friends come in two sizes: those more courageous than I am – from whom I hope to catch courage, and those less courageous than I am – who want to catch courage from me.”
That’s the ideal.
Because we don’t have to face our fear alone – and we don’t get bonus points for trying to. If we’re smart, we’ll take all the help we can get. And give all the help we can give.