Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Dog Discipleship

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Let me introduce Ginger, our Treeing Walker Coon Hound. “Treeing” describes her life passion— treeing animals for hunting. “Walker” refers to the 18th century breeder and “coon hound” denotes a dog who tracks by smelling. Hello Ginger!

Ginger is a rescue dog. We “adopted” her when she was a year old knowing that she had been abused by a previous owner. We fell in love with Ginger’s soulful eyes, her unique coloring, and watchful demeanor. Little did we anticipate the challenges she would present.

An experienced friend with rescue dogs told us that it might take one-to-two years for Ginger to bond for us. Since she was abused by a male, she fears me and loves Peggy. We’ve discovered that her past abuse makes her hesitant about seeking or responding to affection and fearful about sudden movements or voice changes. Rapidity of movement or voice tone were once pain agents.

The Lord has used Ginger to teach us about life and ourselves. I frequently read myself into Ginger’s actions and fears. God is discipling me through this hound dog! Here are four principles I’ve been thinking about.

Pain is melted by love. Ginger’s past abuse shows up in unexpected ways. For example, I can’t change the tone of my voice with her or she shrinks away. She deliberately avoids spaces where she feels cornered. It took almost two years for her to feel comfortable with a hand petting her; hands were associated with pain. It’s been a challenge to love such a hurt dog.

Ginger reminds me how God’s love melts pain in our lives. His love is always described with superlatives: it’s a great love (Eph 2:4), nothing in all of creation can separate us from His love (Romans 8:37-39), and His love is incomprehensible (Ephesians 3:18-19). Wow!

The gospels record again and again how Jesus’s love heals people. Whether a leper, invalid, or a deaf person, Jesus’s love heals them and releases them from pain. When I move towards Ginger to gently pet her, speaking love and not fear, I picture our Lord doing the same to me. Pain is melted by love.

Presence conquers fear. We can count on one thing to bring fear to Ginger’s life — the barely perceptible hum of our oven fan. Ginger hides in a bedroom or behind the couch when we turn it on. What helps ease her fear is our presence. We come into her “space” to pet her and let her know that we’re there. She finds comfort in this.

Jesus constantly encourages people to “fear not.” The Apostle John writes that “perfect love [God’s love] casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). When Jesus sends the twelve on the greatest mission of their lives, what does he promise? His presence would be with them (Matthew 28:20). I’m sometimes a fearful creature like Ginger; needing God’s presence to conquer my fears.

Practice boundaries. Our nearly 1/2 acre fenced-in backyard is Ginger’s playground. She can chase squirrels, luxuriate in the shadow of mature trees, and run as much as she wants. This is a dog’s paradise. But guess what? If the fence gate is left ajar she runs out of the yard. She leaves paradise and our protection for the dangers of cars and strangers.

I’m like Ginger. I inherited this tendency from Adam and Eve — they left Eden for life outside the garden’s borders. Too often I walk as close as I can to the boundary line of light and dark. I need to practice boundaries around my life; staying within God’s light and not straying into the dark.

Patience wins. One of the hardest parts of the day is getting Ginger into the house. For the first year, she obediently came when called. But one day, something snapped; she refused to come when called. 

We secured a reputable dog trainer but to no avail. Treats, training, and tantrums (on my part) did little good. The trainer told us that we needed to make the inside of our house more appealing than the yard. How do you do this with a dog?

For months we experienced this nightly ritual. Ginger would come up to the back door, whine, make a move to come in, and then back away out of fear. This would be repeated multiple times at night usually when we’re eating dinner. She had a pitiful moan of fear, wanting to come in but she just couldn’t make it past the threshold. This was a patience test that I repeatedly failed.

Have you ever noticed that patience is the first mark of love (1 Corinthians 13:4)? I picture patience as slowly pushing a boulder up a hill. If I stop, the boulder will roll backwards and the ground gained will be lost. I have to keep going, one step at-a-time. The joy is reaching the crest of the hill and watching the boulder roll down the other side. 

I’ve also seen how patience is linked with pity. We got up time after time from dinner because we took pity on her; she just couldn’t help herself. Aren’t we glad that our Lord takes pity on us knowing our helpless condition (Psalm 103:13-14).

We’re beginning to see the boulder roll with Ginger. Mostly gone are the days of whining, fear, and multiple moves towards the door. Now she comes in with one bark sometimes even when called! We had to be patient, getting up from the dinner table time-after-time to let her in. I don’t think she’s found the house more attractive; I think she values being with us.

Unlike my impatience towards Ginger, the Lord is so patient with me. I also have fears, hang-ups, and some dysfunctional qualities. Jesus is patient, taking pity on me, inviting me again and again to come to Him, to find His yoke easy when I’m heavy laden (Matthew 11:28-30).

We love this dog and life would have a hole without her. When we signed the papers to secure Ginger I never pictured her as a tool the Lord would use to disciple me. I’m learning how His love can heal my pain, His presence can conquer my fears, His boundaries protect me, and His patience with me wins over my affections.

This is dog discipleship.

2 Comments

  1. What a great set of lessons Bill! I respect how you learn from the everyday things in life – that’s what I want for me too! (I imagine you are more patient with your pup than you describe.) Thanks for sharing!

  2. That is so profound, that God would use a broken dog to teach you the things that need improvement. I love this testimony. And Ginger is so lucky to have masters like you and Peggy.

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