Dear Pastor’s Wife,
We have two well loved dogs in our family. Our first, Willow, a German Shepherd terrier mix, was dumped off about 2 1/2 years ago at the farm where we used to live. I was, at the time, a lifelong dog loather. (That’s a story for another day- God works in mysterious ways.) But when that little 6 month old, rib-jutting puppy lifted her big, watering eyes to me, my mothering instinct kicked in and we adopted her. She has followed us around ever since, meek and submissive, gentle and sweet. She is dainty, loves her peacoat, and eats her food slowly- one piece at a time. This year we flew her overseas from Boston to live with us in South Africa (I guess we are those kind of dog people now. We even have an “I love my mutt” bumper magnet. But I digress.) After being separated from us for 3 weeks, she arrived completely traumatized and we feared she may not recover fully.
So we got Moose- also a rescue, also a mutt- probably a rat terrier. He was 10 weeks old when we got him (he’s 5 months now), and the intention was for him to be a healthy distraction from sorrow for Willow, a sibling for her to enjoy life with, and an imposing presence for security. Moose is a boy, and his personality is totally different from Willow’s. He is rambunctious and uncoordinated, eats snails daily which causes horrific breath, devours his food within seconds, and stinks relentlessly even minutes after having a bath. At night he collapses into an exhausted heap, grunting like a newborn while he falls asleep.
Both dogs got excited the other day, as they always do, when we brought out the leashes and harnesses for their walk around the neighborhood. Willow stood perfectly still, as she always does, while we harnessed her up. Moose writhed and twisted his bum and flopped on the floor, as he always does, while we harnessed him up.
I wish I could say that all was blissful after that, and we enjoyed a lovely walk. But it was just like other walks.
We keep the dogs in the road, so they can be undistracted by interesting things on the sidelines. This works well for Willow, and she trots obediently along, responding to the push and pull of my guiding. She holds her head high, a smile on the corner of her mouth, excited to be exploring and content to be with me. Once in while she pulls after something interesting, but she is easily brought back to center.
Moose, on the other hand, catches my eye as I look over at my husband who has lagged behind me in his pace. I see the reason. Moose is resisting being led so strongly that his legs are nearly horizontal while his body arches away from my husband. We’ve been leash training him for several months; yet still he resists, often biting at the leash in hopes of breaking free. At times I am aware that we look like we are dragging him along, while he flops on the ground any chance he gets.
All he has to do is walk, yet he makes it so complicated. When we arrive home, we are exhausted from the fight.
What I didn’t tell you earlier is that the farm where Willow grew up had hundreds of acres where she could roam free…and roam she did. She hunted and explored to her heart’s content, following our children everywhere when they were outside, and creating adventures of her own when they were inside having school. She had never been fenced in all the time until she flew here and started a new life. Now she is surrounded by 6 foot high fences, and leashed every time she goes outside the fence. Do dogs have memories? I wonder. This must have been a difficult adjustment.
Moose, on the other hand, has never known farm freedom. His whole life has been lived inside a fence. Do dogs have memories? I wonder. He has none to compare with. Yet he struggles to just walk on the leash.
This letter may seem like it’s about freedom. But it’s not (well, not primarily.)
It’s about walking. Such a basic activity which we learn in toddlerhood without even thinking about it or knowing we are learning it. We can’t remember not walking in the past, and we shudder to imagine not walking in the future. To simplify things, life happens largely because we walk.
So what about life and ministry? Why is is sometimes just so hard to w.a.l.k. where God has placed us? Why do we resist the harness and pull at the leash, wanting out, or wanting something different (really just a different set of trials?) Why is it so hard to put one foot in front of the other, or to take those feet back into the church where all the pain is originating?
When I watch Moose, I think of how he is making his life harder by not putting his little feet in front of the other. Such a simple action, guided by a loving master. Moose, for the love of dogs, just walk.
I also think of how, in His Word, God reminds us often to simply walk in the path He has chosen and cleared for us.
Walk, in the imperative sense, is used 23 times in the Bible. Here are a few:
Arise, walk through the land…(Genesis)
This is the way, walk ye in it….(Isaiah)
Let us walk honestly….(Romans)
As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk…(1 Corinthians 7:17)
Walk in the Spirit…(Galatians)
Walk in love…(Ephesians)
Walk as children of light…(Ephesians)
As ye have therefore received Christ, so walk ye in Him….(Philippians)
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without…(Colossians)
Walk in my ordinances. Walk in my ways. Walk worthy. Walk humbly with your God.
Over and over God says to walk. Pages of variations on the word “walk” appear in my concordance. There must be a reason why God reminds us so many times to keep walking. Keep doing the simple things, the thing right in front of you. Keep doing what you know is right. Keep showing up to the life God has called you to. Keep loving. Keep praying. Keep asking.
When your Master is leading you to walk through those church doors again, even though you are fearful of what may happen….walk there. (There will be grace)
When your Master is leading you to make that visit, write that card, smile through weariness, love through exhaustion, face that difficult person with kindness…walk there. (There will be hope)
When your Master is leading you to bend closer to those at home- spouse and children- to be present in a situation over which you have no control over or answers for…walk there. (There will be wisdom)
Maybe you’re in a “harness” season where you feel fenced and constrained when you’d rather be free….but Jesus simply asks you to walk. In the walking, there is an unexpected freedom! Willow has discovered and embraced it, even though she knew a greater freedom before. Moose has yet to learn the freedom he will find through submitting to the master at the other end of the leash.
Something that has helped me greatly in ministry (and especially during our toughest years in survival mode) is to simplify my life to the next minute, the next hour, the next thing. Nothing more. Just walking through today. It is really all He asks us to do, because it is always the only time that we have to work with.
Walk today. It’s not too difficult a task, when His yoke is easy. It’s not too steep a climb, when He is holding your right hand. It’s not too deep a valley, when He is the lifter up of your head. It’s not too exposed a heart, when He is covering you with His feathers. It’s not too dark a path, when His Word is your light. It’s not too strong a fear, when His perfect love casts it out. It’s not too heavy a cross, when He has already borne it. It’s not too lonely a journey, when He is with you.
So walk, my friend.
A Kindred Spirit