My husband and I just adopted Duke, a very cute beagle mix, from a nearby shelter. He is about three years old and was found wandering in a park several months ago. When no one claimed him he was put up for adoption, so no one really knows Duke’s history. What we do know is that Duke is afraid. He is always on high alert seemingly expecting the worst.
Despite our best efforts to make Duke feel welcome and safe, six days in, Duke’s anxiety driven fight or flight response led him to bolt when my unsuspecting husband came home and opened the front door. My husband dove to grab his collar, but Duke was too deft and determined. We searched and called into the night, to no avail. The next morning I notified the local shelter by email, per their phone instructions, attaching a picture, and to our great joy they called almost immediately to say that Duke had been found by an animal control officer and had just been brought in. We quickly drove to the shelter to bail him out.
He was dirty and had a few scratches, but mostly he just seemed exhausted and depressed. He barely acknowledged us as we put him on the leash and led him to the car; and sadly, after he had caught up on his sleep, he went right back to his anxious ways, panting, whining and pacing.
Because we were determined not to give up on Duke, we went to work creating a safe and secure environment in which we hoped he would thrive. We made sure the yard was accessible and escape proof. We made sure the front door was inaccessible, thereby making it escape proof. We took long walks to burn off some of his nervous energy and on those walks I tried to establish myself as the pack leader. Little by little I let Duke know who was in charge, setting boundaries, correcting behaviors, etc. and as a result, I believe his anxious habits are slowly disappearing. Hopefully Duke is beginning to believe that he doesn’t have to carry the weight of survival on his shoulders anymore and is starting to relax and trust us to take care of him.
Dealing with Duke’s fears has caused me to think about my own. Lately I have been experiencing a lot of fear. My daughter and grandson were smack dab in the path of Hurricane Matthew. The predictions were dire. Even though I have experienced God’s faithfulness in countless ways over the years, I will admit to you that my anxiety levels were high. I both paced and whined as I dreaded and prayed.
And then there is the presidential election which is raising the specter of an uncertain future regardless of who wins. Apprehension of doomsday proportions seems to be driving many of us, myself included, more to fight than flight; although bolting out the front door and heading for the hills is becoming an increasingly attractive option.
The thing is I, unlike Duke, am a rational human being who should be able to look at scripture, not to mention how God has dealt with me and those I know and love over my lifetime, and to conclude from the preponderance of the evidence that my God is both sovereign and good, and is worthy of my complete trust. Then why am I still afraid? What is wrong with me?
And the answer is, I don’t want to suffer, and I don’t want anyone I love to suffer. Both scripture and my own experience have shown me that God’s sovereign and perfect plan often includes suffering. Telling myself that God’s plan is always for the good and that if I could see and know what God sees and knows I would not want anything other than his will for my life, while true, seems to have little or no effect on my aversion to suffering.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m of the opinion that God implanted fear of pain, distress and hardship in us to protect us from danger. By its very definition suffering wouldn’t be suffering if we didn’t mind it one way or the other; neither would it be effective in causing us to rely on God. Fear of or aversion to suffering, in the Garden of Gethsemane, was what Jesus faced when he begged his Father to, if it were possible, let the cup of the crucifixion pass from him. He certainly had absolute trust in God, and was without sin, but he experienced the same fear and dread which each one of us experiences in the face of looming anguish; and his ultimate perfect surrender to God’s will is credited to us and covers our imperfect, begrudging surrenders as well as our utter fails.
God has not given me, or anyone, assurance that everything on this earth will turn out okay. In fact, we are guaranteed pain. Our assurance, then, does not rest on a happy ending in the here and now; the only true comfort for our fear is found in the already and not yet of the gospel. Isaiah says it this way:
“Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way, say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear, your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’ Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it, wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:3-10)
This scripture finds its fulfillment in Christ. He came to save us; he is our Way of Holiness; and for all who have been rescued and walk in him, there will finally be a glorious time when all of the things which threatened us and made us afraid, like disabilities, drought, famine, jackals, wicked fools, ravenous beasts, hurricanes and elections will be gone for good and the suffering, sighing, panting, whining and pacing will once and for all be replaced by a gladness and joy which can never be taken away. Come, Lord Jesus!