Determined… he sat there unwilling to budge no matter what treats or coaxing I could offer. He wouldn’t leave the car. He was determined not to get left behind. What made it even more difficult was that I couldn’t explain to him that we weren’t going anywhere, that I was only unloading the groceries from the car. He didn’t understand…because he’s a dog. My big fluffy, wolf looking dog was worried that his mommy would leave him behind, and he couldn’t understand my explanation of the situation. We just moved to Jacksonville Beach, Florida and he tends to get this way during our moves. With all the packing and shuffling he becomes very nervous, as most dogs would. Kayden begins to worry that he is going to get left behind. It becomes such an anxiety-producing situation for him that as we move from our old house to hotels to our new home he HAS to be loaded in the car first. He really won’t stand for it any other way. If only he understood English, I could explain to him that we have no intention of leaving him and that when we leave the hotel room for a few hours it’s only because of we have to eat dinner as well! But I can’t explain it to him and so he spends the weeks throughout the moving process wrung out by his anxiety. We have been in Jax Beach now for about 3 weeks and he has spent most of his time sunbathing on our new patio sleeping off the exhaustion he worked himself into during the move.
Max and I will often chuckle at the things that Kayden will get himself worked up about. It’s endearing and just silly because there is no need for him to be concerned about us leaving him behind in our move! He is like our child, and probably spoiled way too much! We would never even consider leaving him behind, and even picked our current house based on the great patio he would have. (I told you, he’s spoiled!) I just wish he could understand how much we like him and that we have his best interest in mind, that we are never going to leave him behind. But as silly as Kayden looks when he works himself into a fretful tissy, I realize I often do the same thing. In fact, I spend most of my time reeling from my most recent anxieties.
I often struggle with anxiety and worry, and for those of you who can relate, hearing someone tell you “just relax” or that you shouldn’t worry doesn’t make the feeling go away. On the contrary, I have found such words produce a sense of guilt over my inability to conquer my fears.
Anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” We all experience anxiety, but when we let it take the driver’s seat it can have devastating effects on our life and our relationships. Worry is defined as “giving way to anxiety or unease” When we worry we have taken those unsettling feelings and let ourselves be run away into “What If Land.” I am Queen of “What if” land, I promise you there is nothing good in it. Another definition of worrying is “when a dog tears at or gnaws on (a bone) with the teeth.” What a mental picture. I know when I am fretting about something I certainly feel like I am being more productive than simply “gnawing at a bone.” I mean looking at houses in five different cities of potential duty stations is certainly productive… isn’t it? Insisting that your husband understands your elaborate filing system for your military move paperwork is for his best interest… isn’t it? If I am honest and when I examine my heart, those are not coming from a heart of servanthood, they are coming from my anxiety, my need to control what little things I can in the midst of the chaos around me. Taking control over things (or thinking I can) is the very unsuccessful coping mechanism I use to deal with the fear of the unknown.
Scripture tells us to not be anxious or to worry, but honestly, I could not be comforted by those verses until I truly understood that someone else really was in control and that I could trust them. In Psalm 23 David describes God as the good Shepherd. A sermon I heard on this topic several weeks ago helped me to understand what comfort David felt in this image. The pastor’s main point was that we cannot find comfort in God as our Shepherd until we identify as sheep. He went on to explain that sheep are singularly unintelligible, they cannot think constructively for themselves. If left on their own they cannot find their way back to their pen even if it is in sight! They cannot survive without the shepherd. Even my dog is more keen than that so I am having a hard time imagining an animal who is so helpless without its shepherd, but none the less, that is what David compares himself to. Please, don’t misunderstand, this is not about beating yourself up until you feel like a sheep. In fact, in doing so you would entirely miss the point. David is saying that he has realized how little control he has over his life, over what he does and over what happens to him. As the hymn “Come Thou Fount” says, his heart is prone to wander, prone to leave the God he loves, because that is the nature of sheep, they wander. Later in Psalm 57 David says of the Lord,
“You number my wanderings, Put my tears into your bottle, Are they not in your book?”
I actually laughed when I read this. God has numbered my wanderings. I can’t even number my wanderings, the times I have been distracted even this week! I just found it so endearing that again God proves himself as my Shepherd in that He knows my own heart and my own life better than I do. I can just picture Him watching me as I wander off, distracted by some leaf or blade of grass. He smiles to himself, picks up His staff and follows me in order to bring me back to the group. I began to take comfort in my identity as a sheep, not because I am stupid, but because I don’t have to be the Shepherd. In fact, I would make a terrible shepherd, not to mention that the job is already taken. So as you read Psalm 23 notice all the Shepherd does for us… there is really not much left for us to do… except to be sheep (now how hard could that be).
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
~Psalm 23 (NIV)
I go through life often thinking that I have done many of these things for myself, thinking that I was so resourceful when I found that green pasture or that my hard work was finally paying off when my cup was overflowing. I was missing that God was the one providing for me and protecting me EVERY step of the way. And while I would say we would all agree with that statement it’s another thing entirely when we can say we know what that looks like. In the same way that it makes no sense whatsoever for Kayden to worry and fret about being left behind or about not getting his dinner; it is absurd for me to think that I can survive without my Shepherd or that I can control the twists and turns of my life.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:26-30 (NIV)
Our tendency is to not take this verse literally. We read it and think okay God will take care of me, got it. But surely I shouldn’t expect Him to clothe me, that doesn’t make sense. I get my clothes from a store at which I spend the money that I earned at my job, they don’t arrive in a little box in the mail labeled “From God.” Furthermore, if I really trusted God to clothe me how would that work? What if God doesn’t have good taste in fashion, what if the clothes He gave me were not what I would pick out, what if his idea of giving me food to eat didn’t involve eating out with friends on the weekends? I know, those thoughts are surprising and a bit overboard, but I wrote them because they are real. They are thoughts that were in my mind buried deep under a lot of mess, and I know I’m not the only one. Maybe it’s not about clothes for you, maybe you are afraid of how He would handle your retirement account, your career plan, your kids, your home, your debt, your friends, your marriage… The root of my anxiety was that I didn’t trust God to be a good Shepherd. But here’s the kicker, just like Kayden has no reason to worry that he will be left behind when we move BECAUSE we have never left him behind; God will always be a good Father. We may not always understand His explanation or what He is doing, but He is a good Shepherd. Maybe you already know that and just needed to be encouraged, or maybe this is a new thought for you. Either way, I hope it is relieving to know that all you need to be is a sheep. The job of Shepherd is already filled if you’ll let Him. He is a good Father, but don’t take my word for it, take His…
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” ~Matthew 7:11 (NIV)