Jake. Chevy. Ginger. Barley. Tavish. The black shar pei that lives on the corner. These are just some of the dogs that I’ve had interaction with during the course of the last week.
I’m not really a dog person (I’m definitely a cat person), I’ve never owned a dog, but I (like my friend) am growing in appreciation of how much we can learn about ourselves by reflecting on the interactions within our various canine relationships.
The friends that I’m currently staying with own a dog. It’s a cute little white cocker spaniel-poodle mix that I’ve mentioned before. She’s quite taken with me, and loves to check in and see what I’m doing.
This morning, I didn’t have much time for her. I tried squeezing in a few rounds of ball with her, but she seemed confused about the idea that she had to go and get her toy before we could play with it. So, we didn’t play.
I went through my morning routine (which did not include any time with the dog), and later discovered that she was pretty unhappy.
The bathroom trashcan had been thoroughly raided, with used kleenex shredded and tossed about around the floor and down the stairs.
I knew exactly where to find her in the aftermath of this tissue tornado. She was under her owner’s bed, cowering.
She knew that she had been naughty, she knew that she had acted out in resentment (for not being played with), and she knew that I would be displeased.
Yet she did it anyway. She created a mess out of spite, full well knowing that she was acting in a way that would not improve her situation, nor make me–the one that she enjoys so much–happy with her.
As I picked up the pieces of emaciated facial tissue from the stairs, I decided that I wouldn’t go out of my way to discipline her this time. (This isn’t the first time this has happened.) I was confident that she was fully aware of what she had done, and also cognizant of its impact on our relationship for this morning.
Even now, several hours later, she has yet to emerge from her self-imposed time-out corner under the bed. She could be curled up at my feet right now, but she has instead chosen to remain distant from me. Perhaps she is fearful that if she emerges, she will receive discipline. Perhaps she doesn’t want to encounter a scowl of anger from my face as she descends the stairs into the living room. She would rather remain isolated than confront the possibility of one of these undesirable relational outcomes.
I expect this will last at least until lunchtime. I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t come running once she hears me working in the kitchen. She’s still a dog, after all, and always eager for a morsel that might fall from the counter onto the floor in the midst of meal prep.
What do you know…just this instant I saw a little white face peering at me from the landing in the stairway. Cautiously she came down the stairs, then paused to look at me, wondering what kind of reaction she would get when I noticed her.
I smiled and held down my hand to invite her to complete her descent and wander over to where I’m sitting. It took some coaxing, a great deal of reassurance that I wasn’t simply luring her into my wrath, but eventually she came over. She approached with bowed head, coming right next to me, but not looking at me in the eyes expectantly, as she normally would.
I reached down my hand, placing it on her forehead and provided many comforting pats and soothing words, letting her know that our relationship was not ruined forever.
She still wasn’t yet eager to play ball, but she contented herself with being at my feet, occasionally nibbling on the leg of my jeans in order to get just a few more pats on the head, as if to make sure that things are still okay…as they were a moment ago. She wanted to know that my forgiveness was real, that the restoration of relationship was ongoing, and not just a momentary repair.
I sort of feel the need to go back through this blog post and insert my name in every place that I made reference to a dog.
How often do I live out disobedience, fully aware that I will be displeasing to my Master, yet carrying through just the same? And then how often do I seek some sort of self-discipline, creating a barrier to intimacy, convincing myself that He certainly has no desire to see me at the moment…and wondering if things will ever be able to go back to the way that they were?
And how often does He extend His hand to me, welcoming me forward, fully assuring me of the reality of His mercy and forgiveness? And then, continuing on, how often does He reinforce for me that His mercy is not momentary, but that we really can and do have a lastingly restored relationship?
And how often do I just go back and shred the contents of the bathroom trashcan all over again, in some future moment of anger, rebellion, or spite?
I am such a dog.