Cows, Community, and Weathering the Storm

 I’m a Midwestern gal. My heritage is rich with farm history.

After returning home from World War II, my grandfather established a small farm in northeast Indiana. He worked the ground and fed his livestock hours before the sun was up. Even long after he retired, Grandpa’s hands were tan and thick like leather, calloused from a lifetime of hard labor. He passed that same work ethic and love of farm life down to my daddy, who still likes to drive past his childhood farmhouse and reminisce.

I married a man who was also the son of a farmer. Ben grew up in an even more rural part of Indiana—the kind of town that had only one stop light and the main attraction was a little ice cream stand called the Frosty Freeze. He spent his summers helping his dad feed pigs and detassling corn. (Yes, detassling is a real word. But please don’t ask me to explain it.)

I am no farm girl.

Early on in our marriage, I mistakenly pointed out the “cute little goats” in the field we were driving past. Ben just started cackling; he could barely control himself. As he wiped tears from his eyes, he shot me one of those “oh, poor little city girl” looks and kindly informed me: They were sheep. Seriously. And it’s not that I grew up in a huge metropolitan area. My tiny town had less than 10,000 people. I could drive five minutes in any direction to find soybeans, corn fields, and pig farms.

Even so, all farm life was lost on me—that is, until recently when I found myself researching cows.

Ben and I were on our way home from a weekend away in Cleveland. The summer weather had been perfect—low eighties with near-zero humidity, at least until the day we left. As we drove across rural Ohio toward home, the sky grew increasingly ominous. The thunderheads piled high, making the horizon look more like a mountain range than flat farmland. But this range approached at a rapid rate, morphing and growing darker as it neared. Clearly, we were in for some rain.

I took a break from reading my book to look out the window. I’ve always been a little skittish with bad weather, and for whatever reason, it makes me feel less anxious to see it coming. I kept my eyes fixed on the approaching storm.

That’s when I saw them. To my left in a nearby field, a huge group of cows were huddled together. Not just near each other, but almost standing in formation. A small bovine army. “Huh. That’s weird,” I mused out loud.

“What?” Ben asked.

Confident this herd was in fact cows, I explained what I had observed—how the cows were packed tightly together in almost an organized fashion, even though they had plenty of open land to explore in almost every direction. It was Ohio, after all.

“Well… yeah,” he responded, as if such animal behavior were common knowledge. I shot him a remember-who-you-are-talking-to look. The social patterns of cattle was not remotely familiar to me, so Ben went on to explain, “They group together like that when a storm is approaching.”

Immediately, I felt it. It was one of those strange moments where something seemingly ordinary becomes sacred, when a common observation solidifies what God’s been doing in my heart.

You see, I’ve been dwelling quite a bit lately on the idea of shared suffering. Many Bible teachers refer to it as lament, the concept of choosing to sit together in the struggle, without trying to change it or move on too quickly. It’s the practice of presence—and not a casual “Oh, I’ll pray for you” in passing or showing up with a casserole (even though those things may be part of it). It’s literally weathering the storm together—much like those cows.

I was intrigued. So naturally, I turned to the Google and began to read about cows.

I read about raising cattle, breeding cattle, and cattle social norms—way more than I ever really wanted to know. While sources varied regarding a cow’s weather-predicting abilities, The Old Farmer’s Almanac indeed confirmed my husband’s theory:

“If cows huddle, a bad storm is approaching.”

And the Farmer’s Almanac, I’m told, is never wrong.  

But I didn’t stop there. An hour later, I stumbled upon the e-book Cow Talk. (Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.) The author explained: 

“…Isolation is particularly stressful to cattle. Isolation can cause animals to be distressed and panic, increasing the likelihood of injury.”

My little city-girl mind was blown. I mean, let’s lean in here: What is most detrimental to these creatures is not the approaching storm, but the threat of being alone. In solitude, they become more susceptible to predators, more likely to get hurt. Panic sets in. Sometimes they even become a harm to themselves. Fear can do that.

But the presence of others is powerful. Community brings comfort—and not only for these cows, but for us as well!

We need each other. To be our best, to fight fear, to weather the storms of life, we need solid friends with whom we can hunker together. We need people who will draw close, even when it’s uncomfortable or messy, or who will follow us when we start to wander. And we need to BE these friends as well.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be poor ol’ Bessie alone and shaking out in the pasture, running in circles for fear of the approaching storm. I want my herd by my side.

God did not create us for isolation. Not even God Himself exists outside the community of the Trinity—a word we’ve created in attempt to describe how God is both distinctly God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and yet wholly One (John 4:24, 10:30; 1 Cor. 6:11), . Divine community. It’s a mystery I may never ever fully understand but one that I am convinced He’s transplanted into our DNA (Gen. 1:26-27; John 17:21). We were created not only to need God, but also each other.

Alone, we can know Him only in part, only see the world in black and white. But it is in the context of community and friendship that we can best understand His fullness. The prismatic display of His glory can only be revealed when we come together, when we choose to love and to link arms during life’s passing storms.

Like Bessie, we may be tempted to bolt. We may see the gap in the fence and think that something better exists just beyond the neighboring soybean field. But let’s stay. Let’s fight the urge to run and instead invite others to come closer. Let’s enter into another’s pain—no matter how uncomfortable that might feel. Together, let the rain beat down and the wind whip past. We can’t rush the storm—and we don’t need to. Because just like God, who comes “close to the brokenhearted” and who whispers grace in our pain, there’s power in presence (Ps. 34:18).

Friends, let’s take a lesson from the cows: Huddle together. Choose friendship over isolation. Draw near. Don’t abandon the herd when things look ominous, but press in. Because more and more, I am convinced that the best way for us to see God clearly is in the context of “we” not “me.”


main photo cred: Max Saeling via Unsplash

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