In a recent post, I shared some things I had learned from my dogs about submission to God’s leadership. Since then, some new developments with Scooter and Maggie have served to amplify those revelations and inspire further insight.
On one of our morning walks, I let both dogs off leash to wander and exercise in a field near our home. (Scooter wanders and Maggie exercises, as you might guess if you read Part 1). Although we were far from the road, Maggie caught sight of a woman walking by with her small dog. Before I could restrain her, Maggie tore toward them. The woman wisely picked up her dog, but when Maggie got to them, she jumped up on the woman, and began attacking the dog, snarling and barking. The woman, of course, was pretty freaked out until I got there and got Maggie under control. To our horror, Maggie had latched on to the other dog’s backside, but when we inspected, there was no physical damage done, fortunately. Even so, it was very embarrassing, and could have been much worse for everyone involved.
Rick and I decided to consult with a professional trainer to help us with an array of doggie behaviors, especially Maggie’s reactivity and aggression toward other dogs. As we spelled out the issues with the trainer, she began to formulate a diagnosis of Maggie’s behaviors, and analyze the family dynamic since Maggie came on the scene. Two things became clear.
The first is that we underestimated the difficulty of both dogs to adjust to Maggie’s arrival. Scooter was still mourning the loss of our Wheaton, Annabelle, and was not ready to share his space again. Maggie had been through significant change, loss and trauma before her adoption, which caused her to be an attention hog. Their prior experiences made it difficult for them to be at peace with each other, or to come into obedience to us, their parents.
More importantly, Rick and I were confronted with our lack of clear and consistent leadership. Both dogs had become confused and anxious by our lack of boundaries. As with human children, our dog children required the right balance of love and discipline. We were okay on the love part, not so much on the discipline part.
As we were finishing our visit and devising a training plan, the trainer began working with Maggie, demonstrating some do’s and don’ts. In mere moments with Julie, I could see Maggie relax, pay attention, and follow her leadership. It was a beautiful thing. I was immediately much more hopeful about Maggie’s potential. We still have a lot to learn, but I already feel that there has been breakthrough.
Dogs need to know who is in charge. When there is a lack of leadership, they compete for dominance and act like jealous toddlers. They misbehave and don’t get along.
I see a spiritual parallel to what happens in the church when God’s people fail to submit to the Holy Spirit’s leadership. We come together into packs, but are hindered by our reactivity to one another. We each come with our own respective historical baggage, often hindered by all sorts of emotional triggers from the past that haven’t been dealt with. Still subject to an orphan spirit (like Maggie perhaps), we covet attention, control, or recognition. Like the Israelites during the time of the judges, each one does what is right in his own eyes. This leads to collective immaturity, unbelief, conflict, and lack of fruitfulness. Paul tells us that where this type of spirit dwells, we are being ruled by the carnal mind.
God always leads impeccably and mercifully, treating us with the perfect balance of love and discipline. If our hearts are truly his, we should be very teachable. Outer behavioral change, away from rebellion and anxiety, can be accomplished as we fix our eyes on our loving, righteous leader and follow his lead. More importantly, inner heart transformation results when we consistently experience God’s loving presence and trust him each day to discipline us. We can be at peace with God and others, all walking together in his beautiful kingdom. Like Scooter and Maggie, we just need the right trainer, Jesus the “People Whisperer.”