You know, a guy could learn a lot from a puppy. At least that’s the lesson I discovered this past weekend. Not surprisingly, the same God that used a donkey to speak to Balaam and commanded a great fish to deliver Jonah to his beach destination also helped me see myself through the unfortunate struggles of one of my family’s pets.
Last week my parents took their young lab, Riley, into the vet to have a cyst removed from her hind leg. In order to keep the stitches in tact and allow the wound proper time to heal, they placed a protective cone around her neck. Though she’s a pretty good size animal, Riley is still just a pup. She didn’t seem to understand the reason for the cone. She acted as though she was being punished when that was not the case at all. She moped around appearing to be sad – far less energetic than her normal spastic self. For her it truly seemed to be the cone of shame. She missed the point that it was for her ultimate good and healing. The limitations she experienced were for her protection.
I often view certain limitations and restrictions as punishment too. If my resources or abilities leave me unable to go places or do things, it sometimes feels that perhaps the Lord is upset with me. I occasionally see the painful experiences of life as a loss of God’s favor. Honestly, it seems we are all prone to misinterpret such events as far less than they’re intended. And if that is true, is it possible that we put ourselves through a sense of unnecessary shame, when God is in fact working for our good – our healing and protection?
My parents followed the veterinarian’s orders and kept Riley in her cage to limit movement while the cone remained around her collar. Unfortunately, even with the cautious measures taken, the poor dog managed to somehow aggravate the affected area of her leg, causing pain to herself and an overall set back in the healing process. In seeing the self-induced trouble, I realized that I have far more in common with the family puppy than I could have ever imagined.
Truth is this: if I’m left to myself, I’ll find a way to mess things up. Will I misinterpret God’s grace from time to time? Sure! But I can almost guarantee that without the Lord’s merciful intervention in my life, I would find a way to destroy every good gift that comes my way. I would stubbornly return to the tender and sore spots of my soul. I would re-injure myself and be in need of even greater repair. I’d make a mess of things because that's just what I do. I’m a mess in need of help. Oh, but God’s grace is more! His goodness and patience is far greater. He sees our sad estate and moves in close. He stays near. He cares for our hurting hearts and nurtures us along – for our good and His glory.
Of course we must acknowledge that the Lord disciplines and chastens us, and that is certainly an act of grace. However, what I’m suggesting is that sometimes we, like a silly misinformed puppy, can misinterpret God’s protection as punishment. When we feel an overwhelming sense of shame and inadequacy, we would do well to remember that’s not of Him. Being our faithful Creator and Sustainer, God is fully aware of all the areas we fall short. That’s why He sent us Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us! The Eternal One entered time, born of a virgin in a humble manger. This child would continue to grow and strengthen for it was to eradicate the power of such sin and shame that He was sent. At Calvary, bearing our guilt and sorrows upon the cross, Jesus sets us free! That's the good news of the gospel - He that knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus has come to remove shame, not weigh us down in it. His word reminds us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30), and indeed, He did not come for the healthy but the sick (Mark 2:17). He came for you and me! He knows and perceives far above the abilities of our understanding, which means that sometimes what we see as punishment or imposed limitations may simply be His grace enacted for our good…His kindness revealed to such stubborns pups as us, so that He might be glorified and captivate the hearts of His people.
Father, we acknowledge this struggle. Please continue to be gentle with us for it's often so difficult to see. Help us to discern truth from feelings. Lord, enlighten us within so we may sense You at work in our lives and come to know and rest in the comfort of Your ever-presence.