I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “…To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” – Daniel 9:4 & 9-10a (NRSV)
I’ve been thinking about getting a dog. I grew up in a house that had dogs—at least one and as many as three—and usually one cat. Full disclosure: I’m actually a cat person. The stoic nature, the coy affection, the quick offense. Nevertheless I’m considering a dog, a friendly personality that will draw me out and inconvenience my life with unnecessarily abundant affection.
There are logistical considerations, of course. A fenced yard. An abundance of poop bags. Pet health insurance. Because I no longer live next to a cornfield where fences and poop are not critical issues, where a pet could be buried without a permit. These are considerations, but they are not my biggest concern.
My biggest concern is training.
A well-trained dog is the sign of a well-trained owner, and I don’t train well. Sit. Stay. Heel. Obedience isn’t my strong suit. Give me a rule, an assignment, a path, and I’m going to step oh-so-slightly out of line—just to prove I can.
Obedience is a promise—an allegiance—that is consistently practiced until it becomes a habit. Obedience is a set of boundaries, a realm of authority within which we agree to reside.
Until we don’t. Until we don’t agree with the boundaries and we disavow the faithful habits.
At which point, the poop bags are needed in the house, the leash flails owner-less behind a sprinting dog, the joy of recklessness turns to panic, greed breaks the boundaries of generosity, violence chews its way through the corner of well-being, and the name of God is dragged through the mud of slander.
Dear God, toeing the line isn’t my nature. I’m so grateful that mercy is yours.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.