The Gentle Leader (Natalie Thompson)
Sometimes God chooses to speak through His Word, or through the words of another person, or through a quiet, insistent pressure on the heart of His child. Other times, He simply arranges a series of events to demonstrate His love or teach an important principle… almost as if He’s giving an object lesson to His student. I was the student to one such lesson a couple months ago. This was how the lesson progressed:
My family now has two loveable, loyal, high-energy, large breed dogs in our home. As such, they require frequent activity, which has led our family to try to keep them on the regular routine of a daily walk. Both Sadie and Rue love going on walks and become very excited (read uncontainably exploding with exuberance) when we ask them if they’d like to take a walk. This excitement continues as we lace up shoes, button jackets, and prepare to leave, but every time gains a sense of anxiety when we reach a certain point—putting on the Gentle Leader.
A Gentle Leader is a “harness” of sorts that straps around the dog’s snout (still allowing full function of mouth/jaws) and from under the chin to behind the ears. The leash clips into a metal ring beneath the chin that hangs the strap that is positioned over the dog’s nose. If the dog pulls too hard against the leash, the strap over the dog’s nose tightens, painlessly and naturally bringing the dog into submission to whomever is controlling the leash (this mild pressure across the dog’s nose simulates behavior that a pack leader may utilize to bring another dog into submission in a wild pack of canines).
You may have welled guessed that, although our dogs enjoy the freedom of going on a walk through our neighborhood, neither of them enjoys the idea of “giving up the reins” to someone else.
When Sadie, in particular, sees her leader, she runs about, wanting so badly to go on a walk but, at the same time, intensely desiring to steer her own path. She doesn’t want the discomfort of feeling a tug when her master wants to take her in a different direction or keep her from behaving poorly. Much coaxing is required in order to strap her in so we can go. Even then, she will procrastinate coming to me as I call her, wanting to go but loathing the loss of control. Eventually, after much coaxing on my part and much anxiety on hers, Sadie will walk up and sit down just out of arm’s reach, looking at me with large, nervous, pleading eyes, the battle within still raging. I’ll smile and say, “Good girl!” as I step forward to place the leader on her, patting her on the head to calm her and let her know it will be okay.
For years this has been the common process prior to our going for a walk, but recently as I stepped with the Gentle Leader toward my happy and scared dog, God made a truth starkly apparent to me. It was as if He was saying, “This is us… Me and you, Natalie. This is our relationship. I tell you ‘Let’s go somewhere!’ and you are immediately excited—running around and uncontainable with hope and joy, bursting with ideas of how you want to get there. But then I say, ‘If you want to walk with Me, it has to be on my terms. I’ll choose the paths and keep you from poor decisions; I won’t let you have anything but the best, but that may mean leaving behind the things that are less than the best. I want to walk with you, but you must walk with Me, in the paths I choose, surrendering and submitting to my every tug on your heart. It may not be comfortable to submit, but the harder you pull in your direction
the harder the pressure from the tug trying to take you toward My plan. I promise, it’s all for your good.’”
And I knew, in that moment, the love of God; because He wasn’t angry. He didn’t show me this because He was upset with me or tired of waiting for me to get it right. He wanted me to be aware of my behavior so I could change it, but He wasn’t yelling at me. He showed me this because He wanted me to see that, just like I am willing to take that final step forward to leash up my dog when she’s too reluctant to come all the way to me, that God has always been reaching for me when I was too afraid, too stubborn, or too carnal to come as close to Him as I should.
So often, when He calls us, it is to something beyond what we see our selves capable of, but that’s the point—apart from God we are nothing! With God all things are possible, and it will always be His power that gets us to the endpoint of the crazy plans He has for us. God is faithful to complete the work He has begun in my life… even when I am reluctant to allow Him to have His way. I am in no way disregarding obedience, for disobedience has been at the root of every sin since the fall and God respects obedience over the most lavish displays of worship. I want to be clear, that God doesn’t ignore disobedience, but that He is there to aid when we are struggling in submitting to His will and being obedient to His requests. He’s there cheering you on to do the right thing! The point is that Jesus knows the human experience is rife with fear, pain, and struggle and is a compassionate Father. When He calls His child and sees her turn to stumble toward Him in hesitant and fearful obedience, He doesn’t chide her for tripping, He steadies her with His hand.
At times, He has asked me to trust Him and in all honesty, I was reluctant because I was afraid… afraid I was wrong, afraid I hadn’t really heard God, afraid it might cost too much, afraid it would be painful or uncomfortable. In my fear and confusion, I would stumble forward in pursuit of His will, excited that He had chosen me, but dreading what that could mean. I can see myself, just like Sadie, stopping just short of Him, wanting so badly to go on, but afraid of what submission to His will might mean. Ultimately, it was a question of trust, and do you know how He answered that question? He stepped forward to reach me.