Separation Anxiety

At our Cross-Dubya ranch, when calves reach six to seven months old, it’s time to wean them from their mamas. This is an important step in a cow-calf operation as mama cows are usually bred again and need time to recover during the last half of their gestation. Of all the times in a cow’s life, weaning is perhaps the most stressful. I’ll always remember the lesson God taught me the first time we weaned calves here on our ranch.

In preparing to wean the first calves born here, I did a lot of reading and asked countless questions. I learned that “fenceline” or “shared fence” weaning was the least stressful way to wean a calf from its mother. Stressed cattle mean lower weight gain, less peace, and more problems. My research taught me that weaning is not only stressful for the calf but also its mother. In fenceline weaning, we separate calves and mothers so the calves cannot nurse their mothers. They share a common fenceline, as seeing each other comforts both mother and calf.

When weaning time arrives, I separate calves into an adjacent pasture that allows them to share a short fenceline and separate sections of the barn with their mothers. They can see one another, and often they’ll tenderly touch noses through the fences and gates. Watching a mother lick and try to comfort her calf is a touching sight to this grizzled old veteran.

One thing is certain, when it’s weaning time the Cross-Dubya becomes an awful noisy place. No one gets much sleep for all the bawling and calls for each other coming from around the ranch. At first, the calves and their mamas stand near the gates and pipe fence separating the two groups. Mothers low softly and their calves respond with soft cries. While they seem peaceful enough, neither will leave the others’ sight. After a few hours, one wanders away to get a drink of water or something to eat. As soon as they’re out of sight, the bawling begins. Mamas and babies call for each other and they find their way right back to the shared fence.

I know fenceline weaning is less stressful, but it broke my heart that first night when they had to sleep in the barn or pasture, separated from the other.

Listening to the cattle bawl for each other the first few days, God reminded me of how David cried out to Him. In Psalm 109:26, David wrote “Help me, O Lord my God! Oh, save me according to Your mercy,”  (NKJV). It is unclear whether David wrote this Psalm while being pursued by King Saul or during the rebellion by his son Absalom. What was clear is how David felt alone, abandoned, and cut-off from the Lord―his source of strength, peace, and resolve. This caused me to think about how my calves must have felt when I removed their security blanket.

Most of us recall having a security blanket of one sort or another when we were young. Some had a favorite Teddy Bear or toy; others had an actual blanket that went everywhere with them. I don’t recall having anything as a child, but I’ve come to realize as an adult that the Holy Spirit is my security blanket. I take Him everywhere I go and when I can’t sense His presence in my life, I start feeling anxious.

My favorite story of the importance of security blankets is from my stepson, John Christopher. Before he was a part of my life, I’m told he carried his security blanket with him everywhere he went (like Linus of the famed Charlie Brown™ comic strip). As the story goes, his grandmother was trying to help him give up his precious “pahkie” (his blanket) after his mom had tried for weeks. As only a child can, during the discussion, my wife’s son held up his blanket and stated “This a pahkie.” Then he climbed into his grandmother’s lap, hugged her and said “This a pahkie.” Shortly afterwards, he laid his security blanket down in favor of his grandmother’s comfort. Don’t we do the same thing when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior?

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I try my best to avoid spiritual separation anxiety by keeping God in my heart and forefront in my thoughts throughout the day. For me, this means starting and ending my day with praise and prayer. I’ve found it’s that middle part that finds me furthest from God. When I let busyness take precedence or my thoughts focus on daily challenges of this life, I can lose sight of what’s most important. Other times, I allow the world to close in around me and rob me of my joy. Another trigger for anxiety is when we separate ourselves from God through our unconfessed sin.

Like my weaning calves, when I realize I’m separated from my spiritual security blanket, I cry out and seek safety. In my case, it’s the presence of my Lord. My prayer for each of us is that we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with separation anxiety when needed.

God’s blessings,

30 thoughts on “Separation Anxiety

  1. I can just imagine the cattle songs around your ranch!
    When my mare had foals and it was time to wean, it was traumatic. I used the fence method as you do. But I also had compassion on the mare and her full udder that made her stand stiff-legged and sometimes sweating. . (I’d nursed my own son after all. ). I used to partially “milk” her a couple times a day. She would moan-sigh at the relief. (The cats got saucers of warm milk and sometimes a squirt in the face. ). I know it took longer, but I HAD to do it.
    So glad God has even more compassion on me in times of stress. Thanks for this post, Rancher Jim

    1. Thanks Ms. Jackie. There’s just something inherent in us Christians that require us to show compassion for all of God’s creatures and creations isn’t there ma’am. On the few occasions hen I milked cows as a young child, I can remember how the cats would rally around the process. Of course, that made the cows restless. Horse or cow, we have to watch for those tails don’t we ma’am? God’s blessings Ms. Equestrian Jackie. 🙂

  2. What a powerful image. Thank you for this moving illustration of our need for God. Our souls long to be close to Him, but I’m sometimes distracted by my own thoughts or the call of this world. But His caller is greater! May we all call out to him on the fenceline, knowing we have a God who can break down that barrier.

    1. Wow Pastor Joshua! I pray God sees fit to help me find words as poetic and full of life as yours here sir. Thank you so much for your kind comments. And yes, our God is on both sides and in the fenceline my friend. He’s always with us when we invite Him to be so.

  3. What a beautiful picture you painted. As I read and now type in a comment, I am wrestling to describe the lessons —powerful and peaceful come to mind. Yes, peace in drawing close to our Lord is powerful. Always blessed by your writing and challenges. Thank you.

  4. The mental image of those calves and mamas brought tears to my eyes. Oh my, I would have a hard time with that.
    What a great analogy regarding our relationship with God.
    I’m especially glad you brought out unrepentant sin and that you shared ways to avoid separation anxiety.
    Great post!

  5. You touched me with your writing. Just visualizing mama and baby touching noses through the fence brought tears to my eyes. I had no idea they reacted this way. This is simply beautiful, from beginning to end.

    1. I didn’t mean to elicit tears, but thank you for the kind words ma’am. I know what you mean about how the cows react. It’s amazing what God is teaching me as I observe and care for His animals. I sometimes wonder if we learned some behaviors from them, or it they learned them from us. God’s blessings ma’am.

  6. Another wonderful lesson from the ranch, my friend. We had just a few dairy cows as I was growing up (I had to milk them by hand) , and I remember clearly the separation anxiety when we took the calves away. You’ve gifted us with a beautiful example of our need for security in our Lord. Thanks for the blessing!

    1. I share in those wonderful lessons Ms. Katherine, each day it seems. Am so glad I brought back a nice memory for you ma’am. It sure seems like life was much simpler when we were children doesn’t it? Thank you so much for your kind words my friend. Sure hope I get to meet you in person at this year’s Enrich Conference in October.

  7. As a mom who raised four children, this is a very moving story that you illustrated beautifully! I could so see (and hear) those calves and mamas longing and crying out for one another! Great connection to crying out to the Lord and remembering to acknowledge and keep the Holy Spirit in the forefront of our minds and hearts always!

    1. Yes ma’am. It made me think of when the children left for kindergarten, then college, then marriage. Each time was heart-wrenching at different levels. I think the worst I’ve seen was when a calf dies at or right after their birth. Separation, of any type, can certainly cause a great deal of anxiety. Thank you so much for helping put the lesson into our lives. God’s blessings ma’am.

  8. At those times when we wander off due to busyness or sin, I’m so thankful He remains near. He calls us back to Him because of His great love for us.

    1. You and me both Ms. LuAnn. Knowing He is just a prayer away gives me some peace; although I don’t like myself very much when He has to remind me of His presence. 🙁 Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation. Both valued and appreciated ma’am. God’s blessings.

  9. Such a touching essay, J.D. Now I know why Carnation advertised it’s milk coming “from contented cows.” I’m loving what you write on your blog. Jesus taught that way because we see our own lessons so clearly in our natural world. You live it large!

    1. OMGoodness Ms. Dottie. Such sweet words of encouragement ma’am. Sometimes I wonder if my rural lifestyle is understood by folks. Am sure glad you see how we can weave God’s lessons into our lives, whatever our station ma’am. Thank you and God’s blessings.

    1. Mr. John; these words coming from a great author like yourself are certainly humbling sir. Thank you so much for your kindness and encouragement. Am both humbled and blessed sir.

  10. Good morning, brother. What a beautiful way to describe our need for our spiritual security blanket. I am touched by the images of mama cows “tenderly touching noses” with their young, who respond in soft cries. Like you, the middle section of the day is sometimes when I feel the furthest from Him. Thank you for your words. I needed this encouragement.

    1. As your words so often encourage me Ms. Julie. Thank you for your kind comments ma’am. Am honored to know my simple words can bring godly images to mind. What a complement ma’am. God’s blessings.

  11. Great article JD. I want to point out the final comment and how you mentioned that our security blanket is the sweet presence of the Lord! Hallelujah! I couldn’t agree more that we should all pray to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with separation anxiety when needed. God bless you JD.

    1. Thank you Mr. Nathan. I agree, the importance of having a God we can lean on whenever needed is of utmost importance in our lives. An added blessing is that sometimes He convicts us of the need to lean into Him when we have failed to recognize the need. Well said sir.

  12. J.D., this made me want to come to your ranch and hug those young calves who are missing their mamas. Maybe I’ll just send them pahkies.

    1. You are so sweet Ms. Gerry. I bet you could knit them one, but I honestly don’t think they’d wear it or carry it around. They’re out there standing in a gentle rain right now. Each seven month old calf eats about twelve pounds of feed per day, in addition to grazing on pasture grasses, hay, etc. It’s sometimes funny to realize my “babies” weigh 350 pounds! Thank you so much for your comments ma’am.

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