For the last few days, I’ve been taking long, slow walks with my new-to-me dog, Jazz.
But these haven’t been the leisurely, quiet walks you might envision. Instead, Jazz and I walk two or three steps, then turn around and head in the opposite direction. Another few steps are followed by another turn. Basically, it looks like we’re doing a strange human-canine square dance, with each partner swinging the other.
Jazz, a silky terrier, joined my home a few weeks ago. Before that, she lived in a foster home with a couple who nursed her to health after rescuing her from a neglectful situation. In the few weeks since she came to live with me, I’ve enjoyed having a cute little companion who follows me from room to room and sits contentedly nearby while I work or read. I’ve also liked having a reason to walk a couple miles every day.
Then the square dancing began.
Because Jazz is a rescue, she wasn’t leash-trained when I got her. At first, I thought—naively, I now know—that she would quickly realize that she was tethered to me, and adjust her walking pace to mine. Instead, Jazz pulls me around with every muscle in her 11-pound body: through doors, down stairs, and up and down the sidewalk. A couple weeks ago, as we walked past a strip mall full of glass doors, I saw our reflection: a very short woman being walked by a very small dog.
I consulted a friend who is a former dog trainer, as well as the teacher at our obedience classes. Both suggested that, on our walks, I walk with Jazz at my side until she runs ahead and starts to pull. At that point, I either stop walking until she returns to me, slackening the leash, or I turn and walk in the opposite direction. The point of the exercise is to help Jazz understand that she needs to follow my lead.
What I like about this training method is that it employs Jazz’s intelligence. She’ll slowly realize that our walks are better—and faster—when we move together. But I don’t like the halting pace of our walks these days, and the test of my patience versus Jazz’s polite stubbornness. While I know the training will be worth it in the end, I’m not enjoying it right now.
As Jazz and I do our dance, I sometimes think about what it’s like to be caught in this kind of pattern spiritually. To my great frustration, I sometimes find myself dealing with the same old problems, time and time again—and moving two or three steps forward, then turning around and heading back . . . :
• toward imbalance between the energy I give to my work and personal lives.
• toward neglect of the spiritual practices that help me stay connected to God.
• toward an isolating perfectionism that can keep me from developing deep relationships.
• toward a tendency to get stuck wallowing in past pain or disappointments.
• toward an intense focus on a particular discipline, only to become distracted or get
• toward a level of busyness that occasionally leads to burnout.
It’s not unusual for me to crash and burn, then realize that I’ve done it again: gotten caught up in something I thought I’d conquered. After walking a few steps in the right direction, I’ve gotten turned around again.
In moments like these, I can relate to the people in the Bible who struggled to get right and stay right. I sympathize with the children of Israel, whose route to the land God had promised them had its own twists, turns, and stalls. I’m less critical of Jesus’ disciple Peter, who could be zealous and misguided at the same time. I understand the prophet Elijah, who suffered a momentary setback after a time of great spiritual triumph. These people knew what it’s like to move forward, back, and slowly forward again. Re-reading their stories encourages me.
I’ve also found that staying in touch with close friends who have insight into my life is helpful. These friends gently warn me when I’m headed into an old pattern, and sometimes see it before I do. And as I watch the lives of my church family and friends, I’m reminded that we are all in process together—moving through life as God’s children whose lives are guided, and restored, by his grace.
I have a feeling it will be a while before Jazz and I walk together smoothly in the same direction. In the meantime, I will take the opportunity to exercise my patience—and to reflect on what it means to move toward the holiness and health God calls me to.