Blessing or Burden?
The day I lost the joy of raising a dog…
This was the topic of one of the last conversations I had with the late Michael Ross-Watson in June of 2017 before he boarded the plane for Singapore. This had been something Pastor Michael had been talking to me about and like every good spiritual dad, he always left me with more questions than answers.
So, what has a dog got to do with God or anything spiritual?
God has often used people, animals and situations in my everyday life to disciple me, challenge me and shape my heart. This time, was no different. Zane, my foster dog came into my life about 17-months ago. A foster dog is one that has been placed in home care until it is adopted. A fosterer’s role is to raise the dog to become a well-adjusted pet so that it is able to assimilate into it’s adoptive home environment.
“God has often used people, animals and situations in my everyday life to disciple me, challenge me and shape my heart.”
Zane was rescued at 6 weeks old because he had been abandoned by his mother and had gotten bitten by maggots. He came to me approximately at 12 weeks, a tiny tot weighing less than a bag of rice. I inherited this dog because he had a slew of behavioural problems rooted in a lack of self-control and insecurity. In my opinion, Zane was probably the world’s worst dog. For a puppy to display so many problem behaviours at such a young age is quite rare.
From the start, I always thought of Zane as a burden. A burden because it seemed impossible for him to become a proper pet dog and it would be unethical to rehome a dog like that.
When I first shared about my struggles with Zane, Pastor Michael gave me an assignment – find out what God has to say about caring for animals. Of the verses that I found, the one that jumped out to me and pierced by heart was Proverbs 12:10 “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”
Proverbs 12:10, “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”
Proverbs 12 compares the righteous with the wicked. What struck me was that even if a wicked man has compassion, God regards it as cruel. That chapter caused me to seriously examine the state of my heart.
I could hear God asking, how something He had given me become such a burden? God doesn’t give us burdens to weigh us down or drain us. God blesses us! I sensed His gentle reproach, telling me that I had not been a very good steward of His blessings and, if I could not be grateful for a mere animal, then how could He trust me with other things? In that one statement, God chided my faith because I believed that it was impossible to find Zane a forever-home.
“…if I could not be grateful for a mere animal, then how could He trust me with other things?”
That was an ‘ouch’ moment for me and it called for repentance. I made a new resolve to think and see Zane differently. Like any discipleship journey, I’m still walking this one out. There are days where I still struggle to see Zane as a blessing.
The Journey from ‘Burden to Blessing”
The first thing I did to begin my journey of ‘‘burden to blessing’ was to shift my perspective by going back to God’s truths. In Jeremiah 29:11, the prophet Jeremiah writes “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I found this very familiar verse extra meaningful this year. It’s amazing that God said this to His people while they were lost, bewildered and nationless.
I. Finding security in my identity
On days when I found Zane a burden, I began to realise that it was as if I was looking in a mirror. Zane’s issues were rooted in his insecurity and he has acted out this insecurity as an aggressive dog. Why? Because of his fear of getting hurt, he usually goes for the first bite. Similarly, my heart was the same – I examined the crevices of my heart that I had not yet surrendered to God; areas in which I’ve had difficulty trusting Him, decisions I’ve made due to my lack of faith as well as the thousand and one questions that I always bring to the table when I commune with Him.
These days, when I’m working with Zane on his aggression issues and he does get the lessons – I celebrate with him. I imagine God doing the same when I finally come to that place of surrender to say, “God, your will be done. Not mine.” And on days when he doesn’t want to be compliant, I can imagine God shaking His head because I’m probably very much like that when I refuse to surrender my heart.
Knowing my identity and what God promised, gave me the resolve to surrender those places in my heart that needed moulding.
II. Giving Thanks
The second thing in my journey, was to create a thanksgiving journal.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I started by writing one thing a day that I could be thankful for regarding Zane. Whether it was a good day or not, I would sit down to reflect and then write one-liners in my calendar. For the last 9 months, my daily reflections have come in handy, especially when I found myself in tears and feeling like I didn’t have the capacity to be a good handler for Zane.
Zane is a dog that requires the kind of precision handling that I don’t think I’m hard-wired for. He needs a highly regimented life and a handler who is consistent to the degree of how gentle or hard you can tug him on the lead. The lead has to be held at the right tension or he might react. Training him has been tiring because he’s the total opposite of me. I like fluidity and spontaneity while Zane is unable to tolerate either.
Giving thanks has helped me focus on how God brings me through each day with His might not mine and by His strength, not mine.
III. Understanding the 1 Corinthians 13 definition of LOVE
Re-looking at the attributes of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 has also enabled me to reflect on my heart’s intentions. I am certain of the lesson that God is teaching me – He’s disciplining my heart.
I’ve thought about how I would respond if a human had hurt me the way Zane hurt me last year – he bit me to the extent that I was not able to use my left hand for 2 weeks.
Would I react in anger or would I respond in love with patience and selflessness? As I write this, I cannot help but think of Michael and Esther Ross-Watson who have modelled what it means to love unreservedly to me.
This has given me cause to give thanks for parents who have loved me even as a prodigal.
IV. Learning to be like Jesus
Another question I’ve asked myself: “Can I be like Jesus?”
In John 13 : 34-35, Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This is the passage where Jesus washed the feet of His disciples knowing that He was about to face betrayal and be crucified by the very people who celebrated Him just the week before.
Will my heart be like Jesus, a servant leader? Jesus knew that Peter was going to betray Him yet He didn’t attempt to change history even as the Son of God. He knew what had to be done in order to give us righteousness through His sacrifice.
V. Reflecting God in my life
And lastly, am I living my life in such a way that the people who have been placed in my life can see God?
Some of you will probably ask, ‘Did I ever get the joy of raising a dog back?’ Yes, I did! But I’ll save that for another series of lessons I learnt about leadership and discipleship.
*Bible verses taken from Amplified Bible
Charissa is a trainer for both humans and dogs, and loves to put her observations and musings down in writing on her blog, The Orange Chalk. Very often, you’ll read about her rescue mutt, Lady-Mae, whom God uses to refine Charissa to serve like a servant and lead like a royal.