“Do either of you have any idea of how to get a cow out of the attic?” exclaimed Elsa in her delightful German accent.
“Say what?” I said. Linda and I were barely in the door of the ranch house. We hadn’t even kicked the snow off of our boots yet.
“I said, do either of you know how to get a cow out of the attic?” Elsa spoke slower this time but not a whole lot more calmly. She was obviously rattled and distraught. She was in her early 20s and taking care of the ranch while the owners were on an extended trip to Europe. She was feeling the full weight of the responsibility. What with all the livestock and the winter cold, daily there was a host of things that could go wrong. But a cow in the attic?
“How on earth did a cow get into your attic?” I said. By this time I had kicked off my boots and was wandering around the ranch house staring apprehensively up at the plasterboard ceiling. I was expecting a cow to drop in on us at any time.
“No! No! Not in this attic; upstairs in the barn.”
“Oh, you mean the hayloft,” Linda said.
“Ya, ya, that’s it, the hayloft,” Elsa said. “Do you know how to get a cow out of the hayloft?”
“Not hardly,” I said. “I never had the opportunity to do that before. Cows don’t usually climb ladders. How on earth did your cow get up into the hayloft anyhow?”
“There is no ladder,” said Elsa. “There is just a steep set of narrow stairs with a landing and a corner halfway up. Someone left the door to the barn open and this stupid cow wandered in and somehow climbed those narrow stairs into the hayloft. I don’t know how she ever negotiated the landing and the corner on the way up but she can’t negotiate them to get down. I guess she knows she will get stuck like a cork in a bottle if she tries.”
By this time folks were arriving for house church and each arrival was greeted with the same cow conundrum. Nobody arrived with a solution and our worship became salted with baffled brows, pauses to ponder, prayers and the offering of opinions on how to cowboy the cow out of the attic, er, I mean hayloft. By the end of worship, there appeared to be three ways for the cow to get down. She could climb the stairs down and get stuck like a cork on the landing; she could jump out of the second story hayloft access window and break her neck; or she could be ushered down as steaks and roasts.
There was a compounding component as well. The cow was in the latter stages of pregnancy and getting noticeably bigger in the belly by the day. This placed all three options on a rapidly deteriorating incline of feasibility. If all of this wasn’t enough, the cow didn’t appear to mind her lofty lounge. It was, after all, wonderfully warm, filled with hay and as long as someone trudged up the stairs with buckets of liquid refreshments on a regular basis, why would a cow want to leave all of this? The alternative from the cow’s perspective was turning her rump to the wild winter winds of March and having to shoulder her greedy-guts herd mates for a place at the feed trough.
And so, by the end of the evening, all Christian cow people, including the cow, agreed that the wisest thing to do was to do nothing. So that is what we did and we did it for weeks; pray and do nothing. Each day for the better part of a month you could visit the ranch and in the barnyard you would find a nice herd of white-faced cows feeding contentedly around the barn and one lone cow, happily chewing her cud, laying in the second story hayloft access window feeling a cut above everyone else in the world. (I have pictures.) Eventually she calved. With her girlish figure restored and with the help of a swift kick in the rear administered by a local cowboy named Shorty, she made it down the staircase to take her rightful place in the herd once again.
That decision to wait and do nothing but pray was a hard decision for all of us to make, especially for Elsa (for the cow, maybe not so much). For me it raised a question that has dogged me for years: What does it really mean to wait upon God? In this case we prayed, and we waited, and we did nothing. In fact, I felt guilty for not having a proactive solution up my sleeve as I came to the ranch house for church each week. Surely God should have given me one. I know I repeatedly asked Him for one, but nothing ever came.
So I continued to wait; we continued to wait. The eventual outcome was nothing short of a deliriously happy one for cow, calf, Elsa and all of us. But each week as we waited for something to happen, I felt we really should have been more proactive; we really should have been doing something. Somehow it felt like we were derelict in our duties and letting the ranch and the cow down.
What does it mean to wait upon God? The biblical writers seem to use the phrase over and over again. Christian writers use the phrase repeatedly. We Christians frequently use the phrase in our dialogue with one another. But for me it is one thing to say the words; it is entirely another thing to do the words. I confess that when there are cows in my attic, waiting upon God alone for a solution goes against every Calvinist bone in my body that compels me to work and pray. The old work ethic is just too deeply engrained.
That being the case, the Bible is clear, whether it is done by choice or forced upon me by a particular situation, when I choose to trust myself and my needs totally to God’s resources and not my own, I will not be disappointed (Isaiah 49:23b). God is never limited by my limitations. I have resolved to do more of this waiting upon God alone, not just when I am at the end of my own resources but by choice even when I have resources in myself. I have resolved to pray more and let things happen and to work less to make things happen.