An awareness of something profound entered my life when I adopted my rescued Boston Terrier, Pearl, in 2009. I had shared in the rearing of five puppies into vibrant, self-assured adult dogs who lived very full lives, three of them to the age of 16. I was a pro. “Just try to teach me something about dogs. I dare ya,” I thought.
Little did I know but I had A LOT to learn when Pearl entered my life. I was to learn about dogs, about life, about love, and about God.
Pearl was approximately two years old and had been severely neglected when we met. She had a case of separation anxiety which I had no clue how to handle. After two months of chaos, never knowing where I would find her, what I would find destroyed, how injured she would be upon my return or if the house would be burnt down, through tears I placed a phone call to a professional. I needed a dog trainer to help fix the dog who appeared to be regressing under my care.
The trainer was quick to diagnosis Pearl as a “sack of nerves”. He said, “She is so nervous in her own skin that what she needs is to know that she no longer has to protect herself. That will mean you must show her authority consistently until she believes you are capable of protecting her.”
To carry out this task, I was told to be firm with her just for the sake of displaying strength, despite my heart’s desire to spoil her rotten and make up for lost time. I was to stop carrying her outside but attach a leash to her collar and pull her outside (gently) if she refused to walk. I was to refuse to pick her up when she pawed my leg and reply with an uncompromising, “No”. This meant my verbal command to “go in your room” (enter her crate) was not negotiable. Entering the crate meant business and I was supposed to treat it like a non-event. It became Pearl’s job to enter her crate when I told her to. No fluff. No apologies. “I love you’s” and praise were forbidden for completing what was her designated job.
It was torture implementing these terms against my will. She was a docile, shivering, thin-skinned creature and my purpose for adopting her was to love and coddle her the rest of her life. But she needed me to be strong more than she needed me to be soft and her needs took priority over mine. She could not benefit from my love until she trusted me. Over time, the behavioral techniques delivered the intended message, Pearl responded to my authority, and I gained a new understanding about TRUST.
Trust must be established before gestures of love carry any merit.
I learned that the best parents exercise authority even if only for the sake of earning their children’s trust. Then what lengths that trust accomplishes! Then how convincingly their love is administered!
I learned that boundaries enable love to richen and without them love is superficial. It’s the difference between love functioning as a momentary, soothing, comfort versus a bond upon which two can stand.
I learned that God has every intention of spoiling me, a creature made for the sole purpose of exchanging affection with Him, and yet He may withhold blessings (and it pains Him to do so) when His position of authority in my life is in jeopardy. Preserving my trust in Him as my protector is more important than our mutual enjoyment. Warm, fuzzy feelings can wait. Trust-building cannot.
Without a basis of trust, loving gestures fall short of accomplishing anything valuable but on top of a foundation of trust, love can run layers deep.
My family has termed our lifestyle of faith as, “Free In The Box”. We have discovered a haven of love and rewards nestled within the boundaries of God’s authority which cannot be found elsewhere. This reality is so tangible that we have a deep appreciation for ‘the box’. Its binding properties operate like a hug. Inside ‘the box’ everything is good, peaceful, and permanent; promises are kept and pleasures are enjoyed without reserve. It is our responsibility and privilege to uphold the confines of ‘the box’, the very parameters which are in place for our benefit.
Life free in ‘the box’ (God’s way) is like bunkering down inside plentiful hunting territory, liberated to hunt to your heart’s content. Life outside ‘the box’ trades that scenario for one without range limitations only to find that there’s nothing to hunt beyond the horizon except field mice.
Establishing boundaries and denying requests isn’t a bad alternative when God decides. There is plenty of time and a vast supply of “Yes” responses inside ‘the box’ under the oversight of a trust-worthy authority. “No” responses may be necessary on occasion, not because the request is wrong, nor because the giver doesn’t desire to give, but because ‘the box’ walls need regular fortification.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:7-9