Some dogs are afraid of bad weather. Others tremble in the presence of dogs bigger than themselves. I’ve seen many who are fearful around strangers.
Then there’s my dog, Isaac, whose greatest fear is a somewhat-inanimate object.
I was very excited when Isaac inherited his “puppy water cooler.” It kept a large supply of water so that I didn’t have to refill his bowl constantly. Gravity-controlled, the water bowl would automatically refill from the cooler. On top of the convenience, it’s a cute conversation piece.
Little did I know how much conversation would develop over a seemingly innocent invention.
One evening, as I sat on the couch and Isaac went to the cooler for a drink, I suddenly heard a gurgling sound. Before I could say anything, the 50-pound lab had leapt onto the couch, was trying to climb in my lap, and shook in fear. That was my first, not-so-subtle clue that Isaac was scared of the water cooler. When the water flowed from the cooler to the bowl, it made this sound that, to Isaac, was worse than a thunderstorm.
He began to avoid the cooler unless desperate for a drink. He has a smaller, plain water bowl outside that keeps him well-hydrated during the day. I’ve caught him trying to drink rainwater from the street when we’re out walking. But on the rare occasion that the cooler was his only option, he would stand as far from the cooler as possible, stick his tongue out as far as it would go, and lap water from the sides of the bowl. Any little sound of the water would make him jump back. Then he’d ease back in to risk another sip. This has gone on for as long as five minutes at a time. I’ve contemplated making a video to send in to America’s Funniest Home Videos (is that show still in production?). But I don’t want my dog to grow up to resent me.
All fun aside, I have tried to reassure Isaac that the cooler is harmless. I’ve removed the cooler and just filled the bowl-base with water. He still avoids it. Of course I’ve tried explaining to him that there’s nothing to fear. All that “conversation” got me was a lick on the face. One day, I finally accepted the fact that Isaac will just have to learn for himself the harmlessness of the water cooler. I’ve also accepted that this fear could last for a while.
Sometimes it’s easier for us to recognize other people’s fears than to acknowledge our own insecurities. We desire for the people and pets we love to let go of their misgivings. But we can’t take the fears away. We can’t set each other free. We have to trust that our Isaacs will realize their fears are unfounded. We sometimes have to wait for people to embrace the freedom of letting go of their own worries.
So, if a person we love is consumed with worry and anxiety, what can we do to help? Paul’s letter to the Galatians instructs the young Christians to do the following: “share one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ …. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (Galatians 6:2-6, The Message). If you want for your friend to let go of his or her worries, go ahead and ask God of what you need to let go. As we seek peace in our own lives, others will be attracted to that sense of security we emanate. As we offer to help one another, to share each other’s burdens, to pray for each other’s worries, we help to lead each other to freedom. We can’t change each other, but we can change ourselves. And as we change ourselves, we’re more able to help one another.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other is patience: to give people time and space to let go of their fears. I can tell Isaac all day long that the water cooler won’t hurt him, but he has to experience that revelation for himself. In the meantime, I love him and comfort him. I try to make his water-drinking more comfortable. I believe that one day the dog will no longer extend his body and tongue in “downward-facing dog” just to quench his thirst. But I have to let him let go of that fear. I can’t let go of it for him.
This week, friends, take time to listen to someone’s anxieties. And take time to ask God about your own fears and how you might let them go. Let us move towards embracing freedom that we cannot create for each other. Instead, let us lead one another to that freedom as we let go, let God, and take a big sip of his Living Water, which is fear-less.
all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian (and Isaac)
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.