Backward Steps

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-by Martha Spong

“Let’s face it. If your dog isn’t housebroken, nothing else matters. Cuteness and personality can win big points for Fido, but his looks and charm may begin to wear thin once you realize that cleaning up after him has become your full-time job.”

from The Housebreaking Bible (

One of the signs of new life at our house this spring is a black lab mix puppy named Teddy. He has been with us for a week, and both adults are exhausted. We are up with him at night, striving to entertain him when he’s awake, and holding onto our patience despite holes at the ankle levels of our pants made by sharp little puppy teeth.

I don’t want you to think that he is entirely untrained, or that we are. Housebreaking really trains the people as much or more than the puppy. We get into a routine we have forgotten since the last time we had a puppy – 2003 for one of us, never for the other. It feels like having a baby save for the teeth (see above). Most of his seeming mistakes are really our mistakes (don’t stop to find the cell phone; he needs to go out and pee now, or you will be cleaning up a puddle!). I know from experience that the puppy wildness and the small bladder and the long naps will pass, and in time I will have a fine companion who is loyal and steadfast. I remind myself of that with regularity.

I also remind myself that just as we feel frustrated with backward steps, ours and his, God must have similar feelings about humankind. We seem to learn, and then we backslide. We make progress toward peace, and then we go to war again. We become more accepting of one minority group, but we turn back the clock with another. We gain an understanding that care for others matters, but we forget to ground our service in worshipping God and wonder why we burn out so quickly.

I’m grateful that even thought our looks and charm wear thin, we are still God’s full-time job.

How have you tried God’s patience? What do you tug on obsessively, even when you are not sure why? When Teddy gets wild because he is tired, I stroke him and say gently, “Settle, settle.” Close your eyes and imagine God saying the same to you. Feel a gentle and reassuring touch.

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