At our house, one of our favorite TV shows is the Dog Whisperer, a reality show featuring Cesar Millan who works with problem dogs. Cesar Millan is one of my heroes. He advises people to become “pack leaders”, to use “calm, assertive discipline” and to create healthy, balanced dogs by applying the philosophy of “exercise, discipline and affection” (in that order) when working with dogs. We don’t own a dog, but Cesar’s wisdom has often been a guide for me in working with my students. (His methods even work in some ways for our two cats!)
God used this gifted man to speak to me this week. Lyle and I watched an episode on Tuesday night. For some reason, something Cesar said stood out for me and I began musing on it all week.
In one of the episode’s three stories, a couple was distraught over their out of control Australian sheep dog. Walks were nearly impossible because of the aggression and intense barking that would make neighbors think that a small child was dying. The wife described it all to Cesar and fixated on the problem, stating and restating what always happened and how frustrated she was. Cesar is very empathic, but at one point he knew that mere empathy would not solve the problem. “Just venting about the problem won’t help,” he gently reminded her, “You gotta have a belief system.”
A belief system. This is what perked up my ears. People tell me I come across as a positive person, but scratch the surface and like this woman, I can be quite the complainer when faced with challenges. I am easily overwhelmed and swamped by my feelings. It’s funny how we think that just venting about problems will solve them. Like a ship without a rudder to steer it, this has never led anywhere productive for me.
What do I believe? This is the helpful question I reflected on all week. (It’s not that I’ve never thought of this question, but like the lens of gratitude in last week’s blog post, it was a helpful point of reflection.) At Wednesday night’s study, someone stated something that resonated with me. “I believe that God is a God of love, and that no matter what trouble I get into in my life, God is there, always looking for me, inviting me back and restoring me.”
This stated it so well, and I mulled it over. It reminded me of one of my favorite Bible stories: the Good Shepherd. The shepherd has 100 sheep, but one gets lost. He leaves the 99 in the fold and goes out to find the one that is lost. It’s not just theory to me – I see this story enacted over and over again in my life and in the lives of many people. In so many ways, God finds us despite ourselves, despite the many ways we get hopelessly entangled in our human dilemmas. Through prayer, the loving kindness of friends, scripture and so much more, God brings peace where there was heartache, love and forgiveness where there was division, and renewal where there was burnout.
Two things have to happen for a belief system to work, which are not actually that easy. One is that we have to quit the complaining long enough to look elsewhere. Our egos want to stay in charge, and it can be the hardest thing to admit that our way isn’t working. Like the woman in the Dog Whisperer, we fixate on our problems. In large part, this is a failure of imagination, forgetting that there can be a larger world view. Luckily, the woman on the TV show trusted Cesar Milan and listened to his advise.
The second thing that has to happen after a moratorium on complaining is what Alcoholics Anonymous calls surrender to “a Higher Power”. One day in particular was pretty tough last week at work, and I prayed before sleep for God to find me again because I felt like I was that ship without a rudder, adrift in a sea of emotion. The rudder started working when I remembered Cesar’s gentle prodding of the woman, “Lydia, you gotta believe something!” I remembered that Good Shepherd who was looking for me even before I knew I was lost.
It was more than a good rest that restored me that night. This rudder makes all the difference in the world.
1 Corinthians 2:16, “Put on the mind of Christ.”