Years ago, an extended family member mocked a story I wrote about our dog. The words stung.
Because I was trying to help.
Maybe stories about dogs seem juvenile and ridiculous to some, but to me, God uses animals to teach me lessons I might otherwise never learn. The dog I wrote about then has since passed away—Isabelle, our first, dear yellow lab.
Today, I have another story about another dog—our second yellow lab, Rose, now two and a half years old and still in training.
Aren’t we all, still in training?
And perhaps what my dog taught me today might bring some healing/heeling to us all, if we choose to learn a lesson from a dog?
Rose is a purebred, bred carefully for hunting birds. Her bloodline is impressive, coming from national champions in field trials. Not only is she a great hunter, she’s a great family dog. Smart, affectionate, funny, energetic, sweet—she’s everything we want here on the farm and in our home—except for one thing.
She won’t come when called.
I stand on the front porch and say, “Rose, heel!” She knows the command. She knows what to do. She just stubbornly sits and stares at me. Too often, I find myself in a show-down with a dog.
But I’m stubborn too.
When I make eye contact with Rose and give her the “heel” command, I will not break our eye contact until she comes to me.
I watch her eyes.
Even the slightest glance away gets an “Ach!” from me—the word we learned from her bird-hunting trainer telling the dog “No!” She responds and puts her eyes back on me. But still, she doesn’t move. She doesn’t come. I wait. In the coldest days of this winter, I sometimes waited five minutes, refusing to back down. Always, she ends up coming to me. But why does she wait so long? Why is she so stubborn, just sitting there staring at me, trying to get me to back down and go away or telling me with her eyes, “Sure, you want me to come to you? Where’s the treat? Give me the goodies and I’ll come. What’s in it for ME, obeying your command? Because, after all, don’t you know, it’s all about ME and what I want!”
But it’s not all about HER. It’s about ME and YOU. We all act the same way towards God. We all think it’s about US! We trash His commands with our own demands.
Who is alpha here? Who is in charge, really? Is someone—anyone—anything—in charge?
My dog belongs to me. And you and I belong to God. We don’t get to call the shots and decide which commands to obey and which commands to ignore. Not without consequences.
I want a dog who will obey my command to come when called because too many times her nose has led her astray. Too many times, that highly sensitized nose—that God-made gift—catches a scent and goes running off, oblivious to danger. That dog with a nose needs someone to guide and protect when her instincts overrule her best interests. She thinks her nose knows best. I know otherwise.
But . . .
It’s not about power and control as much as it’s about love and care—this struggle she and I find ourselves in. She needs to bend her will to mine when I call because if she can’t bend in non-threatening situations, how will she bend in threatening? If she doesn’t come to me in the front yard, how will she come to me by the road?
Too many times she has run off our trail by the road after a rabbit where cars and trucks speed by at 55 mph. Too many times I have wondered if I’ll watch her die right there in front of my eyes, in the middle of the road, slammed to death by a vehicle she didn’t see coming.
Learning to come on command would be a life-saver for her and a heart-saver for me.
So we started today re-teaching the “heel” command.
Our trainer had a pocket full of hot dogs, usually irresistible to canines, disgusting to me, animal by-products (which means left-over, unwanted body parts like ground eyeballs and such, with nitrates and all).
Yes. Dogs love hot dogs.
Isn’t it interesting how our trainer used what our dog can’t resist to teach her to come?
If only we humans would smell the irresistible scent of our Maker . . .
If only we would come, because everything we seek besides Him pales in comparison . . .
I watched my dog and my trainer’s dog sit salivating—waiting—wiggling with excitement—anticipating what was coming.
I watched our trainer use positive vocal tone and food rewards. She never once used physical force or harsh words.
And Rose was in love with her trainer. She came when called—every time. On the front lawn—she came when called. On the trails—she came when called. On the most dangerous path by the road with speeding cars and trucks—she came when called. Her trainer did not allow behavior that might harm or even destroy. And yet, Rose obeyed her trainer.
Because she associated the call to come with good—with pleasure—with reward.
Why don’t we?
Why don’t we associate the call of Christ with good—with pleasure—with reward?
Is it because we’ve been wrongly trained by imperfect humans to believe that with God’s call comes punishment?
God does not call to punish.
God calls to please.
And the truest pleasure any human can experience is a true experience with God, our Maker.
He came to free us. He came to save us.
He came to save us from our instincts that lead us across roads that can kill.
Do we really want to keep taking chances in life?
Or will we come to the One who rewards, always and forever with what our true selves find irresistible—if we could but smell divine fragrance?
I watched my dog today in the field. I have never, ever seen her happier. And I do believe she had no idea that she was being trained—that her behavior was being shaped—that she was becoming all she can be, reaching her potential that would otherwise never be realized, without someone who knew her instincts and worked with them in a way—she couldn’t resist.
That, my friend, is our God!
I say “Heel!” to my dog.
God says, “Heal!” to each of us.
Question is, will we come?
Will we come, willingly, to the only One who can heal us of ourselves?