Posted by: karanoel | March 23, 2012

The other attention hound

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8

A peaceful pup

Cole always wanted a dog, but it never seemed possible in any of our living spaces so we had fish, mice, turtles, a hermit crab named Pinchy, and one exhausting night with a chinchilla. His desire was finally fulfilled when we moved in with John and Madison and became the proud co-owners of Alice, a sweet and highly energetic mix of border collie, terrier, and something speckled like a dalmatian. Maybe not not the german shepherd Cole would have chosen, but her charm won him over quickly. I was already smitten.

Everything was going pretty well for a while there. I took Alice on five mile walks most days, brought her on nearly ever errand I ran, and lavished her with attention. Then John and the kids would get home and the love would flow anew. It was a happy life for this people-loving puppy, and not too bad for us humans either. Then I got pregnant. My energy dwindled to the size of a pea and my patience quickly followed. The long walks became history and, after some exasperating outings, it just didn’t seem desirable to bring her everywhere I went. She still got attention from the rest of the family, but her behavior had changed and she just wasn’t as likeable anymore. The jumping and whining got worse. The clinginess was unbearable. Everywhere we turned, there she was… waiting and wanting and needing.

As the frustration mounted, I debated the benefits of having this dog for whom I’d once felt such fondness. But as the fog of pregnancy began to clear, I realized that my emotional reactions and resentment toward her were only making things worse… for the both of us. My own darn fault, of course. So I headed to the library for a book by Cesar Millan, aka the Dog Whisperer. This was only two days ago and I haven’t even finished reading the book but I can say that Alice and I have had a couple of delightful days together. I have also found some insight into managing the other attention hound: my soul.

You see, our souls can be pretty wonderful things, just like my sweet puppy or a chubby toddler. But, undirected and unchecked, they can turn into something akin to a whiny, needy animal or that monstrous child throwing a fit at the grocery store. Our souls, which are comprised of our will, emotions, and intellect, were never intended to run the show. They were meant to submit to a pack leader, in this case the Spirit of God living inside us, and be led into a more excellent way.

Based on my new dog-training expertise, I know that Alice and my soul both need three things: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection, in that order.

Now when I say exercise, I don’t want you to think of 45 tedious minutes of running on the treadmill because you know it’s good for you and you know you should. I want you to picture Alice, my wiry dog with the big black spot on her side, running down the concrete slope of the river bed to sprint through knee-deep water, chase the ducks lounging in the sun, and spring back up the slope to catch my eye and dash down again. Passersby make comments like, “What a great dog!,” “She looks so happy!,” and “Makes me want to run through the water!” I have to admit it is a joy to watch her, almost breathtaking, as I take in the speed of her muscular body releasing all that glorious energy. It is what she was made for. No wonder she’d been miserable all cooped up in the house with me and my frustration.

I really believe that exercise for our souls looks like that. It is an expenditure of energy on the good things we were created for. There are so many more yes’s than no’s in the kingdom of God, and we were meant to release ourselves and our energies through them. Think of Adam and Eve with the whole garden of Eden before them – every space, every plant, every animal, and perfect communion – all but one tree. In Isaiah it says, “Listen carefully to me and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance.” What kind of food is good to your soul? What satisfies and fulfills it? It will different for everyone. And so very far from that which simply entertains or occupies your soul, but leaves it hungry. If you don’t know what fills you up, ask the Lord. He will show you. It doesn’t have to look all holy; I mean, hiking hits a reset button in my soul like nothing else can. If you know what is good but can’t seem to do it, ask and He’ll help you. I knew that writing would satisfy and delight my soul, but it took months of asking God for help before I finally started this blog. How worthwhile it’s been to ditch empty snacks to feast on this activity I love so much. So lesson number one is… chase the ducks, baby!

Exercise comes first because it is much easier to work with a soul (or animal) that has spent its energies and has little left to fight or resist. But exercise doesn’t do much to inform or develop character. This is where discipline comes in – an unpleasant word I know, conjuring up something harsh or closely tied to punishment – so let’s go with Webster’s definition: “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” Yes, training. That’s all it is. It is not emotional. It is not shame-based or punitive. It is consistent. It corrects, molds, and perfects.

Like my experience with Alice, I think many of us tend to focus on our behavior, grow quickly frustrated, and start to react emotionally. We beat ourselves up and punish ourselves for our bad behavior, or find a way to blame someone else. But, as I can testify, it accomplishes nothing apart from worsening the situation. The right way is really quite simple, although not necessarily easy. Every time our soul wants to go a way that would not benefit it, we need to correct it with, as Cesar would say, “calm assertiveness.” We don’t need to flip out, flog ourselves, or plunge into despair. We just need to make consistent corrections, making sure our mind, will, and emotions know that they are not the boss; that they are under the authority of the Spirit and that it’s non-negotiable. Once they learn they are not going to get their way, they will submit and will enter into a place of peace. Not an overnight kind of thing, but once we realize our authority in the Spirit, I think we will be surprised how quickly we can see change.

This change, of course, is based on an understanding of what is right. There is no better discipline than absorbing the word of God… learning it, thinking on it, and letting our lives wrap around it. Not only does it communicate what to aim for and what to avoid, but it empowers us to do what it calls us to… “For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.” (Proverbs 6:23) Talking to the Lord and listening to his responses go hand-in-hand with learning his word. He is faithful to show us where we are missing the mark, faithful to show us how to step out of our sin, and faithful to love us through the process. So lesson number two is… submit to the pack leader and find peace!

According to the Dog Whisperer himself, the last need is for affection. He emphasizes how many dog owners (and, I would add, soul owners), particularly in the U.S., put this need first and create a very unstable situation for their pets. I think of how many of us coddle our souls and give them what feels good to us but does not benefit them – kind of like giving a dog the people food he loves so much, which delights us to do but will destroy the dog. Yet, when everything else is in its proper order, affection is a necessary component. The way I interpret this is cultivating kindness toward ourselves; allowing the great love and forgiveness of God to override the severe way we tend see our shortcomings. Unfortunately, Christians are notorious for condemning ourselves and others. Jesus says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is kind of tricky when we are so quick to disqualify ourselves from love. The great thing about dogs is that they don’t refuse affection based on the bad things they did yesterday or even five minutes ago; they respond to the here and now. So lesson three is…. lap up the affection!

As we are released into the joy, self-discipline, and love we were created for, I truly believe our lives will draw the attention of others and evoke comments like “Hey, I want to do that too!” Because, really, who wouldn’t?


Responses

  1. I’ve missed the past few posts so I was delighted to find in the midst of the Dog Whisperer’s lessons that you are expecting! Congratulations to you, John, Cole and Madison! What a wonderful gift! I’m so incredibly happy for you all! OK – – no more !!!
    P.S. I love secrets of the Dog Whisperer too.
    Big love to you all,
    Julie & the Burgess clan

    • What a joy to see your name, Julie! Thank you so much. It’s an amazing gift although we are still trying to trying to wrap our heads around it!! Please give my love to your family. Would love an update if there’s ever a free moment. Big love, Kara

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Wow. You’re really undermining my confidence in writing. Maybe you should just try to think of what I’d say and write it for me.

    Which brings me to another writer who said the only thing I ever heard that could be added to the Bible, and fits your piece: “The soul must come to the cross daily, not the be destroyed, but to give up its right to rule.” But don’t you dare use it because it’s all I have left!

    Love and awe, Dad

    • What are you talking about?? You’re a great writer! Go back, read what you’ve written, feel encouraged, and write some more!! I will keep my hands off that very wonderful quote since the barbed wire around it might cut my fingers 🙂

  3. I really like this author! Do hope I am on the list to receive the blogs. May excerpts, or entire messages, be used in a small group?
    Thanks, friend (you know who you are) for thinking of me.

  4. My soul is very puppy-like. I definitely need that wonderful, constant calmly assertive voice of my Lord to guide me back. Great blog post!

    • Right there with you Sarah! And mine seems to be one of those stubborn breeds. But I see our souls on their way to becoming dogs of unfailing loyalty and obedience. It just may take a wee bit more training 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

  5. I am scrambling to be techno-relevant. I believe I am confirmed as a recipient now of future blogs (or is it postings on this particular blog?)
    I see now that this author….is your daughter. Have done some writing myself, and editing for Tommy, others. This is very good: content, style, flow…I loved it. I’m telling ya–our kids are running the world now. My daughter, born 1980 (like yesterday) manages a branch for US Bank here in Cincy. Well, at least I’ve learned to text now; not ready to be put out to pasture yet. JW

  6. Thank you, thank you for giving us such Godly wisdom – I’ll think of you and your new puppy every time I read 1 Timothy 4:8. And, how wonderful to hear that God is adding to your beautiful family.

    • Thank you Marabel! God has been so gracious to me. I hope all is well with you, George, and all the kids and grandkids!

      Sent from my iPhone


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