Big Dogs and Brick Walls
Grizzly and I took off on our walk a few days ago like we always do on a bright sunny morning. About a half mile up the road, walking past high shrubs and a fence on my left, I heard incessant barking from what sounded like a miniature dog of some type.
“Listen to that little dog, Grizzly,” I said, as we walked past. The yapping on the other side indicated a pint-size dog with a big attitude who heard and smelled Grizzly and me, but could not see us or harm us. A eight foot brick wall stood between us. We strolled right on, ignoring the sharp, piercing barks. “He’s not nearly as big as you,” I said, scratching Grizzly’s ears as we walked.
Though Grizzly is quite gentle and friendly, he doesn’t look it. Friends and neighbors pass me all the time in the neighborhood, many of whom know what happened last year, and say, “Nobody is going to come near you with that dog.”
I’m pretty sure he’s the biggest dog in the neighborhood.
If the yapper behind the wall saw who he was trying to provoke, he’d scoot off with his tail between his legs, hiding under the nearest patio table. Can you imagine his face if he saw all 110 lbs. of my black German Shepherd coming toward him at full speed? I like the feeling of an enormous, powerful dog next to me that looks like he is daring anyone to touch me. He gives me confidence and courage to walk the streets again. I needed an embodiment of the message, “I will not be a victim” and he is it.
“… listen to that annoying little dog! He’s not nearly as big as You.”
As soon as those words left my lips, I had one of those moments like last summer at the lake when I realized I’m talking to Grizzly, but I’m also praying.
Soul bullies, a term I borrowed from Leeana Tankersley, and wrote about here are those voices in our heads that chatter all day long, usually coming from mental closets of fear, shame or anger that we’ve failed to open and clean out of our head space. They snap and bark trying to get our attention, to threaten us and scare us and make us retreat. They have no real power; they’re small dogs making a lot of noise.
Recently, I began meeting with a new spiritual director. Before I left her home, she prayed the words “guard and guide” over me. Her words floated up in my mind as I glanced down at Grizzly during our walk. “Guard and Guide.” He takes every step with me. No one approaches me without permission from Grizzly.
It’s easy to be afraid, to back down, and to get discouraged when we look at crime statistics, loved ones battling illnesses, or the divisiveness in our country and the lack of civility with which we speak to each other. It’s tempting to think the church is powerless. Sometimes she appears so. “The kingdom is not in trouble,” my spiritual director said, quoting Dallas Willard. I’m playing her phrase on repeat in my head these days. The kingdom is not in trouble.
Grizzly walks with a confidence that’s contagious. He holds his head high. He’s skilled at looking and listening with his enormous receptive ears. He is ready. Nothing is going to catch him unaware.
Nothing catches Jesus by surprise either.
He told his disciples that the chief of the godless world was about to attack, “Don’t worry. He has nothing on me - no claim on me.” (John 14, The Message) He promised that when he left bodily, he would send the Spirit of Truth to live in us and with us. His parting gift was peace. The Helper, the Comforter, the Advocate is ours. He is always with us. He dwells in us.
The voices of this world are small, barking dogs on the other side of a tall brick wall. The voice that says you are not enough, the voice that says you have to seek your own vengeance, the voice that tries to keep you afraid of the next step you need to take, the voice that says God doesn’t love your or he’s disappointed in you… those voices ‘have no claim’ on you and me.
We belong to a kingdom that is not in trouble. We don’t walk anywhere without Him. He’s right beside us - enormous and powerful- guarding and guiding us.
When the internal barking of soul bullies starts in my mind, I want to remember that walk with Grizzly and pray with confidence: Listen to that voice, Jesus. It has no idea how big You are.