Today’s post will be a little different from my previous ones. I plan on returning to that format, but have been thinking about doing this post for a bit and have felt prompted to write it during prayer. So here it goes.
The first thing you have to understand is my husband and I have the best dog in the entire world. I know you thought you had that one, but you were mistaken. We adopted Shiro a year and a half ago from a pitbull rescue agency. Yes, the picture is actually her; what a cutie!! While I thought we were only rescuing a dog, I discovered that God was also putting someone in my life to reveal some important truths to me. Below are some of them.
Because Shiro was a rescue, she needed to be trained all over again from the start even though she’s almost three years old. While she’s become much better at listening, she tends to forget her training when we go to new places. Lately, we’ve been bringing her to my parent’s house, and I know that as soon as she gets out of my sight she will poop on the floor or get in the trash. When she wanders off I call to her to come back. Most of the time she does, although usually after a couple calls in a stern voice. And whenever she comes back on her own, even if I’m annoyed by how long it’s taken, I always praise her. You have to do that with dogs or they won’t come back to you when you call them. She’s gotten a lot better at listening, but sometimes she still wanders off and I have to go find her. I always remind myself that she’s still in training, that she’s learning to trust me and listen to my voice.
It’s easy to get distracted from God when we find ourselves in new situations. Sometimes these situations can be scary or fun or just make us curious. Sometimes when we hear God calling to us to return, we ignore him in order to explore new places or because we’re afraid he’ll be mad at us when we come back. But even if we’ve pooped on the floor or torn the trash open, God is still calling us to come home. God doesn’t give up on us just because we’ve rolled around in a mud puddle. And when we come back to him on our own, we don’t have to fear that he will rebuke us and condemn us. God is filled with joy every time we choose to return to him. And even during times in our lives that we don’t come back, God will come and find us, clean up our mess, and keep on loving us.
We have to remember that we’re still in training. Some of us have just started, and some of us have been in it for a long time. Either way, there will still be times we mess up or wander off or don’t trust our master. And that’s okay. We aren’t supposed to be perfect yet, we’re still in training. And God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, he knows we’re in training and he loves us and he isn’t angry at us when we mess up, he just wants us to come back again.
A Lap Dog
Shiro is a lap dog, and I don’t mean she’s a dog who will sit in your lap when you call them and then get down after a few minutes. And she’s not a dog who just sits next to you and puts her head in your lap. No, my fourty pound pitbull is a lap dog. Her favorite place to be is right in the middle of your lap, curled up in a circle or trying to bathe your face with her kisses. She’s been sleeping on my lap while I’ve been writing this (which adds a whole new challenge to blogging). One of the reasons she needs to be in someone’s lap is because she has separation anxiety, and I mean she’s had to be on anti-anxiety medication before for it. My lap is where she feels safe and secure and loved. She knows she’s protected here and that I’m not going to leave her. When she starts feeling brave again she’ll go off and explore our yard or run around with my mom’s dog Merlin. But she always knows where to come back to when she starts feeling worried or scared.
I wish we knew that God’s lap is the safest and best place for us to be. Unlike Shiro, wandering off can be dangerous and scary. But we like our independence, we like to think we can do this ourselves, so we start getting brave and get out of God’s lap. And hopefully, like Shiro, we always run back to God and jump in his lap again. Mary knew that sitting at the feet of Jesus was the best place she could be. It’s a place we are safe and secure and loved. When we are there we can listen to God, build a relationship with him, and learn to trust him more.
Shiro has a lot of baggage coming from a rescue agency. We don’t know the full story, but she was an owner surrender, looks like she may have had puppies at a very young age, may have had her rib broken in the past, and was returned four days after being adopted by the previous family. As previously mentioned, this has manifested in severe separation anxiety. When we first got her and didn’t have a cage she tore up the linoleum in our bathroom and almost burrowed through the door when we left her alone for half an hour. She has escaped from regular cages, the kind you get at Petco, covering herself in cuts and bruises in the process. She has a perpetual bruise on her leg from repeatedly licking herself when we’re gone. I cannot even describe how much better she’s doing a year and a half into a stable home.
Shiro has baggage, and so do we. We don’t come before God squeaky clean, and accepting Christ as our saviour doesn’t magically remove our baggage. We all act out of our experiences and we have fears and anxieties because of our past and the way we’ve been treated. And God knows that. He was with us then and he will be with us every day going forward. Being with Jesus means that we finally have a safe home and a place where we can start working through all of the baggage we have to become more and more free. And we don’t have to work through it alone.
Annoying Little Sister
My family dog, Merlin, is my baby, despite being eight years old. When I would come home from college he would sleep in my room. I run him around the yard and he snuggles in my lap. So he is quite confused and dismayed by this new, young, overly-energetic creature I keep bringing into his domain. Sure, Merlin enjoys running around the yard with Shiro, but after that he wants her to leave. He gets jealous when she gets the attention, and annoyed that she has so much energy. He frequently tries to get away from her so he can have some peace and quiet. I call it the ‘only child syndrome’. He hates sharing my love and attention.
Believe it or not, many of us in the church have the only child syndrome. We’ve been attending for a long time, we know the ropes, this is our church home, and we have this God and Jesus thing pretty much figured out. Then these new people start coming in, they’re different and overly-energetic, they take up the attention and start doing things in new and wrong ways. They have dirt under their fingernails and ask questions that clearly show that they don’t know what they’re doing or what they’re talking about. It would be much better if they would quiet down and chill out or better yet, just leave and let things go back to the way they’ve always been.
But this is not our house. It is God’s house. And God has brought these people in just like he brought us. God loves them, just as he loves us, and he has given us new little siblings to love. They are here to receive God’s love with us, to learn with us, and also to teach us. Our job is not to parent them, correct or scold what we see as new and offensive. But instead we are to live together as one family in Christ; as one body.
Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself
Shiro is a fearless dog. She tries to chase geese that would certainly attack her and she certainly tries to eat any big fuzzy bumble-bees flying by. She doesn’t realize these things will hurt her, she just thinks they’re fun. Likewise, she isn’t afraid of a lot of things other dogs get freaked out by. She’ll follow me around while I vacuum and thinks my hair dryer is a game she’s supposed to play.
So it was interesting when, after being around my family dog Merlin while I was vacuuming, she started acting afraid of the vacuum. Merlin will tuck his tail and go in another room as soon as he sees me take the vacuum out. Suddenly, Shiro started copying him. She had learned from Merlin that vacuums were things to be wary and to steer clear of.
Just like dogs, we have a skewed understanding of what is bad and what is good for us. Because of our sin, many of the things we should fear and avoid seem attractive to us. We chase after pursuits and act in ways that can bring us deep and lasting harm. Likewise, the things that are harmless or even beneficial, are things we avoid out of worry or fear. And frequently, we learn how to differentiate between the good and bad by watching and listening to others just as sinful and just as confused as we are.
As Christians, we learn that we discover the right and wrong through God. That’s why it’s so imperative that we keep coming back to him, his word, and his community. When we try to discern between right and wrong on our own, we tend to be irresistibly drawn in the wrong direction. Even when we look to others we admire and respect, who have more experience than us, there’s no guarantee they’re in the right either. All of us have to learn these things from God and trust him when he tells us to avoid something and listen when he says to do something.
Hear us Lord, hear the cry of us sinners. Thank you for using the weak things, the foolish things, to shame the strong and instruct the wise. May we always be open to the teachings of the Holy Spirit in our lives and continue to return to your word to discern their truth. Father, help us to trust you and love you and keep coming back to you. We praise you for sending your son Jesus to rescue us and bring us to a new and safe home where we can begin to learn and grow. May we continue in our training throughout our lives as we spend every moment at your side. And when we wander may we always come back to the God who loves us and has given us a home and a family. Amen.