Lessons From My Dogs

In June, our family joined the parade of households that acquired a ‘pandemic puppy’. Now, if you had told me even a year ago that we would be adopting our second dog, I would have laughed you out of the room. Having two dogs in one house seems like the kind of thing a person who secretly wishes they were a farmer or zookeeper would do, and I had never wished to be either of those things. But, between visiting friends who had 2 delightful dogs, our kids’ incessant pleading once they noticed a crack in the wall of my resolve, and the reality that we were at home a lot and could use a distraction, I caved. Before long, we were driving two hours south to pick up our new 8-week-old mini golden doodle whom we named Cosmo.

Cosmo instantly became everyone’s favorite member of the family, with the exception of our older dog, Spencer. Spencer just didn’t understand this tiny ball of fluff who followed him everywhere and thought his legs were the perfect teething toy. Soon, Cosmo’s presence began to benefit Spencer. You see, as he advanced into his golden years, Spencer started to get a little thick in the middle. Now that we had an active puppy, walks were a must. We had to burn all that puppy energy somehow, and since we couldn’t in good conscience leave Spencer behind as we took Cosmo out for walks, he began a new exercise routine. In a matter of 6 months, Spencer had lost 10 pounds and was much more like the youthful dog we remembered.

Spencer also benefitted Cosmo on these walks, showing him how to walk on a leash and other veteran moves. One thing they never seemed to master was pace. Inevitably one of them would want to stop and smell a hydrant or a tree while the other wanted to keep going, full steam ahead.

Initially, I thought this inefficient style of walking was kind of cute, albeit frustrating at times. As Cosmo grew, though, it became clear that just allowing them to meander was not a good plan. I needed to apply some boundaries and require obedience from them, and pull them back with a corrective word when they veered or lingered. I was surprised how difficult this was for me to enforce. I have three teenagers, after all, so enforcing boundaries is a concept I am pretty familiar with. But with the dogs, I felt bad pulling them away from what seemed to be such delightful sensory experiences. When had I become such a pushover?

As I continued to waffle, the walks became increasingly difficult. Cosmo and Spencer’s combined weight was now 100 pounds, and if they decided to pull in opposite directions, I felt a little like a wishbone. The final straw came on a bright and sunny morning. As we were walking, we encountered an older man with 2 small dogs who seemed to be my dogs’ mortal enemies. Spencer and Cosmo yanked on their leashes, straining and barking at the dogs, who strained and barked right back. It took all of my strength to pull them to the other side of the street. I took some deep breaths to calm my racing heart and looked down to see blood dripping down my hand. In my effort to corral my dogs, the pressure of the leash had opened a previous injury and produced a good amount of blood. After tending to my wounded hand and ego, I reflected on my self-inflicted predicament. If I didn’t get these dogs under control, I wouldn’t be able to walk them by myself.

At that moment, it was like God was saying to me ‘Look at what happens when there are no boundaries. People get hurt.’ Ouch. I mean, literally...ouch. I know that part of following a holy, loving God whom I also call Father is that there is a parental dynamic in our relationship that involves discipline. I’ve seen the results in my own life when I’ve adhered to the instruction and discipline of the Lord and the folly when I’ve rejected it.

I've seen the results in my own life when I've adhered to the instruction and discipline of the Lord and the folly when I've rejected it.

As someone who has been following the Lord for a few decades now, I have seen through the lie that discipline is the end of fun. Rather, discipline is one of the key ingredients to true maturity and growth.

Hebrews 12 is full of the why behind God’s discipline. In verse 6 it says “For the Lord disciplines those he loves and chastises every son whom He receives.” God’s discipline reveals his love, which reveals our relationship as his children. We as parents display this same type of love by creating safe boundaries and limits for our children so that they can truly thrive. When our kids are young, we teach them not to run into the street, and when they’re teenagers we teach them not to run toward unhealthy friends. Every day involves loving discipline in some way, shape, or form.

It goes on to say in verse 7, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” Discipline often means enduring under the pressure of delayed gratification or denying our flesh or fighting the temptation to quit. Athletes who achieve impressive titles or awards endure the discipline of grueling training schedules. They don’t wake up operating at Olympic levels of excellence, and they don’t quit when they realize how long the road is to reach that goal. They endure. When we are in the pressure cooker of spiritual maturity, we have the assurance that we are there because God loves us as His own children and will produce good things through it. But we must endure the discipline to reap the reward.

When we are in the pressure cooker of spiritual maturity, we have the assurance that we are there because God loves us as His own children and will produce good things through it. But we must endure the discipline to reap the reward.

God’s ultimate desire for us as His children is revealed in verses 10 and 11, which say, “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Peaceful fruit of righteousness? I’ll take it! Could one phrase more accurately sum up what we as parents desire for our children, or what we as believers would want to see in our own lives? That is what God’s end game is when he disciplines us. At the moment, as we endure the strain and pain of it all, it seems like it’s too hard or unfair. In the end, though, it yields in us a character that reflects our Heavenly Father. Holiness. Righteousness. Peace. Those temporary times of painful training are producing things in us that have incredible eternal value. By it, our lives will be fruitful. People will look at us and see Christ in us. It took a few humbling walks with my crazy dogs to remind me of this important lesson. Discipline is necessary. It is safe and secure. It is life-giving. Here are the boundaries, and there is the fruit.

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