My otherwise laid-back, lazy, happy-go-lucky Shih Tzu Samson couldn’t care less about much most days. The world goes on around him, and he sometimes gets up to engage, but he’s often very content just to lay in his warm bed and give us a toothy grin or a quick glance of acknowledgment. Unlike his high-strung sister Delilah, he is easy to be around, low-maintenance, easy-going.
Except when he perceives something different outside as a threat.
Usually this is a trash tote at the end of my neighbor’s driveway or a lawn mower my husband left out in the yard for a time. Sometimes it’s a squirrel, turkey, or deer, but most of the time it’s an inanimate object casting a shadow that isn’t usually there and therefore is a threat.
Samson can sit at our window-paneled door for 20 minutes solidly barking away at said “threat.” I often wonder if he finds it confusing that the trash can and/or lawn mower don’t therefore scurry immediately off—or at all.
And when I watch him going crazy for a while, spending all of whatever little energy he has being fierce protector against a mythical enemy, I see myself.
I see all of us.
How often do we, in times of stress, bat at everything in sight in front of us, viewing everything as a perceived threat?
How often do we live in attack mode, ready to pounce? This subject is touched on in “What Scaring Turkeys and Catastrophic Thinking Have in Common,” but looking at it from a slightly different angle: Whom are we screaming at, coming against, jumping on, cutting off, and defending ourselves against, when really, that person is just a lawn mower—coming to, of all things, mow the lawn?
I think so often we do this to those closest to us, with whom we are most comfortable, because we know they’re here to stay, and we need to attack something, after all, and they’re a ready, available, easy target. But I also think we run around in times of stress seeing everyone and everything as the enemy, against us, ready to snatch our time, money, or resources. Dumb as it sounds, it could be the driver in front of us some days whose mission, we’re convinced, is to keep us from getting to that appointment on time. (Yeah, because we know perfect strangers wake up every day plotting to make our lives difficult.)
Or maybe it’s the child coming into the room for math homework help when we finally sat down to pay a bill that’s overdue. Or maybe we just took our first few sips of coffee that afternoon? Maybe we were about to “get our peace on,” and they came into the only time of quiet we have had all day.
Could it be the phone call coming in from a friend who might need help? Do we see that as a drain, a struggle, a time suck, a distraction, keeping us from something else? Something we are frantically trying to cross off our to-do list?
What about the well-meaning neighbor kid coming to the door to sell popcorn for a cause? Is it his fault dinner is burning, our phone is ringing, the toilet is clogged, and the husband is home late?
How about the husband who just walked in the door and straight into Mama Rage without warning because an injustice in the kids’ world needed to be set right, and he’s the first adult she encountered since her anger started smoldering?
Not always, but often, our short, sharp, barky replies in response to anything that moves—or even things that don’t but we think they should!—are the result of us being way…too…busy and overplanned. And when we realize for a fleeting second that we are not God and can’t possibly accomplish all we set out to do that day, we notice we actually have no margins. Life quickly becomes ugly, frantic, stressful, and impossible, really. Nothing feels doable. Even the next crisis needs to take a number. We simply have no room for anything extra to squeeze in and need our attention.
Everything unplanned is “in the way”—and therefore barked at.
We are edgy, grumpy, short-of-temper, and really of no use to anyone.
Maybe that is never you. Or maybe you are around someone who is stuck in this rut and can’t see the light leading him/her out.
The first step is recognizing we have our bat out and are taking a good, solid swing at everyone in sight. (That might feel good in the moment, but we leave scars and dents all over the place that we later have to deal with. They don’t usually repair on their own, as I’m finding out.)
The second step is breathing deeply, being still, taking a moment to regather our thoughts. Pretzel breathing has become one of my new, closest friends. We need to clear our heads and allow for some self-reflection. Taking a few steps back can help us to see at whom and what we are slamming and to decide if that is truly warranted (it rarely is).
Third, for my family, we believe we need to ask God to cleanse our hearts:
Psalm 139:23-24, David speaking ESV
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 51:9-12, David speaking, ESV
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
and bring us fresh peace:
Psalm 29:11, David speaking, ESV
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah speaking, ESV
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
John 14:27, Jesus speaking, ESV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
Philippians 4:4-7, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. For us, these verses give us hope that we can stop barking. They offer a fresh start after repenting and then getting our peace on.
We’re not really in control, and barking and swinging are mere attempts to try to grab some control, order, and structure back. What we really need is to be still, examine ourselves, ask God to examine us, and let His peace wash over us to refresh us for the next thing coming our way.
Spoiler Alert: The “next thing” might not be in order on our list. It might very well be an interruption. Either way, we need His peace to keep us from sitting at the door ready to attack anything walking or standing by.
I’d rather live employing defense when I need it and not remain tense and rigid in a constant posture of offense. What about you?
Referring to this book again, because it’s pretty awesome:
Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung