Today my brother and I loaded bags of sand into our packs and set out for a short training hike, preparing for a longer backpacking trip later this summer. All would have gone smoothly except for one little thing–a little thing with four legs and a wagging tail. Yes, Corona was making a nuisance of herself again. No matter how many times we commanded, she would not stay put. She just couldn’t bear to be left behind. We finally convinced her to stay seated at the bottom of our driveway and made it all the way out to the road before low and behold, doggy came trotting happily behind us. I guess she thought she’d sat still long enough and was entitled to some applause. She didn’t get it. Instead she got a stern lesson in obedience. It took about four times of being rudely dragged back to the driveway for her to clue in and decide that obedience was a better idea than doing what she wanted. She finally lay down resignedly and watched us walk off. Being prematurely tired out by all the back and forth, walking backwards to keep an eye on her, etc. we didn’t go very far before heading back to our waiting pooch. More importantly, I wanted her to succeed at obeying me so I could end the day with praise, not discipline. I didn’t want the temptation to come running after us to get the upper hand. As we approached her, Corona laid full out on her stomach, as if she were a puppy apologizing for bad behavior and showing us she knew who was boss. I think she was afraid we would still be angry with her. The moment I gave her praise she was up running circles, happily basking in the joy of being loved and forgiven. It was a good moment.
Why did we make such a big deal out of Corona not coming with us? Well, she’s an outdoor dog, and we prefer to keep her unchained and free on our property because we are all happier that way. Since she is free to run, she needs to know where her boundaries are. We have needed to do our best to let her know “you can come this far but not further,” and we have gotten pretty serious about it in the last few years because we’ve seen what can happen if those boundaries are not respected. About ten years ago we had two dogs who broke out of their kennel while we were away, ran off, exploring everything they wanted, until they were miles away. One of the things they discovered was a farm with chickens. Not having been exposed to these strange creatures, they made a game of killing them. And the farmer responded by killing our dogs. Yes, boundaries are important. As masters, we feel a responsibility to protect Corona from a similar fate. And while we’d much rather praise her and pat her and let her play and explore, discipline is a necessary part of giving her protection. It’s either that or chaining her down.
Free will is a difficult gamble. We can all understand how much better off we are as free creatures, not chained down, but given the ability to fully live and explore our world. And yet God knows the dangers we could loose upon ourselves if we did exactly as we wish, and so He gives us stern commands. He finds it necessary to discipline us, to let us know that the boundaries are serious. He allows us to experience pain not because he hates us, but because he loves us as children that he longs to protect. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father…Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” Hebrews 12:7-11. Sometimes God’s love is tough as nails. There’s a slew of popular songs about God’s love out there, but I can’t think of one expressing the tough love of God. Can you? I’m guessing it’s not our favorite aspect of his love for us. But when I think about it I am glad that His love is so tough, even though it’s tough to take. His love is not wishy-washy or weak. It is 100% strong and set on my good. Maybe someone should write a song about that.