Last night our seven-month old pound puppy, Denali, aggressively snarled and hurled at Chena, our six month old Great White Pyrenees shepherd sweetie. This was the fourth random, snarling session in the last 2 months and really unnerved me. Denali was separated from her mother and siblings too soon and put into a stressful shelter environment before coming home with us at seven weeks old. I didn’t realize the challenge we were taking home, too caught up in her sweet puppy eyes. All along we have struggled with her lack of boundaries and I often recognize the confusion on her face as she tries to figure what we want. She has a hankering to be the alpha, and her howling (literally) protests to my dominance are sometimes quite entertaining. But last night was the breaking point. I had a surge of fear thinking about what could happen with this loose cannon of a dog. My darling daughter sobbed huge tears as I honestly processed with her that we were going to have to get rid of Denali if she continues to be aggressive. (She has already had to give up two dogs due to our moves out of country and I HATE to put her through the pain again, but we HAVE to be a safe place). Denali hasn’t hurt anyone- it appears to be all growl and bared teeth, but we can’t take the chance here.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
This morning as I soaked in the peaceful dawn light, I asked God for wisdom. My daughter’s heart is of upmost importance, but I’m also responsible to the other people and critters here. I felt His whisper encourage me to press into this problem, because it was going to repeat. Only it will be repeating with people He will bring to us. And we can’t just give up on people and haul them to the pound! The effect of a lack of early, healthy socialization for my puppy is quite similar to the brokenness seen in people who feel unloved. They don’t understand boundaries, snarl easily at offense (often even create it in their own minds) and are desperate for love but are scared to let anyone close.
“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me.'” Romans 15:1-3
As the Body of Christ, we are challenged to teach “orphans” how to live in community. The foundation of community is laid with strong bricks of love, and submission is the mortar. God has been revealing to me how this posture of the heart is the oil that fuels all healthy relationships. I can’t truly love others without submitting to them. This means that I put their needs, desires, joys before mine (there are healthy boundaries to this of course). When done out of love, this offering of myself is life giving and soul satisfying. Submission is the precursor to intimacy, miracles and breakthroughs.
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Galatians 5:13-14
This same lesson has been on play with our geese. As they are growing into adolescence, their excitement to be with us often turns to hormonal aggression. Thankfully, I was able to find a helpful forum that taught us how to show dominance and calm them. Sometimes we have to do this special hold two or three times in a row to convince the goose to back down. Once they choose submission, they happily follow us around like puppy dogs, waddling and squawking in the middle of all we do. It’s quite enjoyable for all of us.
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
God began to teach me about submission by first revealing my innate selfishness. Sure, I love to serve and give, but on my terms and in my comfort zone. So really, I am often pursuing my own needs and pleasures. Recently, I have been stretched while sharing my home and family. Living in community involves more chaos, noise and dirt then I’d like (I’ve always been a bit OCD about my floors and am learning to let it go). Sacrificing alone time and private space is sometimes physically painful to this camouflaged introvert! I have less control over the comings and goings while carrying more responsibility. Sometimes my deepest desire is keep cranking away on my current project, but I have people depending on me for dinner (if it were just my kids I would instruct them to go make a grilled cheese and live with it!). I would prefer to hide away and snuggle in my bed with a book at night, but there is usually someone who needs to be listened to or encouraged (this one is true to most all parents). I am often pressed because I have a LONG list of chores and projects to be done but I have visitors who need me to love them with time and presence. I work around special diets, consider other’s love languages and choose patience with personalities very different from mine. Another super challenging aspect is the fact others are close enough to see all my weakness and warts. Living together puts it all out in the open and I am vulnerable to criticism and judgement. This is accentuated with the raising of a family. Some criticism is deserved of course, and I am given the opportunity to extinguish pride and ask for help. I share these practical examples of submission in my life to keep it real and hopefully encourage you.
” Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
Words like love, submission and community are often used as decoration, we sprinkle them around and appreciate how pretty they sound. The reality is they are birthed and sustained at great cost and pain. A lifestyle of submission requires dozens of deaths to self every day. Any parent knows exactly what I mean. Raising children requires giving up sleep, quiet, leisure, money, energy- you just don’t realize the intensity of the relationship until it happens to you! All of the healthy marriages and communities I have witnessed are steeped in submission. One preferring the other out of love and value. Its truly beautiful. And amazingly powerful. I imagine that is why the enemy has targeted and tried to blast this truth to pieces with horrible abuses and lies.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Romans 12:10-13
This morning our housemate, Liz, began to work with Denali. She witnessed our drama last night, did some research and came to the rescue. Throughout the day she has gently rolled Denali over and held her down until she fully submitted. It wasn’t a cruel or painful process, in fact, as Denali became accustomed to Liz taking command she started to wag her tail and enjoy the attention. And she is joyfully obeying as we test her over and over. As I watched the process I began to recall the gentle ways God has taught me about submission. His teaching maneuvers were based in relationship and revealing who He is and my value to Him. I’m afraid I’ve done my share of growling and squirming to get from under His hand, but I am learning to trust. Maybe someday soon my tail will even start wagging:)
“Therefore be imitators of God,as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, and offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Ephesians 5:1-2