Guest Post ~ authored by Cari Wagy
I’ve been reading a devotional that chronicles the journey of a dog Stella and her master Allison as they go through obedience training. Stella needs help because she suffers from a condition called “submissive urination”. In other words she would piddle after being chastised in an attempt to get her owners approval which of course had the opposite effect!
As a team, they went through 6 weeks of obedience school. The change in Stella were outstanding and Allison was confident that she would impress the instructor on the last day of class and pass with flying colors. She did not expect what happened. She does the first two commands without incident but on the third one she balks and regresses completely to her old behavior. You might say she has a case of performance anxiety. Probably Allison’s tone of voice was just off enough or having extra guests watching or any other number of things clued Stella in that this was a “test” and she wasn’t interested in trying to pass it! In other words, she rebelled.
Allison’s lesson from that incident was about Grace… how God doesn’t wait until we are perfect before He loves us. She chose to abort the lesson and love on her dog. “…as I watch Stella struggle…all I want to do is call her to me. To say ‘Stella! Come here, pretty girl! Come here baby!’ Because maybe she didn’t ‘Sit!’ Maybe she didn’t lie ‘Down!’ Maybe she didn’t ‘Stay!’ But I am her master, and she is overwhelmed by sin. I want to grant her grace, just as God granted grace to me.”
In addition to the lesson on grace… I had a deeper epiphany, taking things even farther. Don’t we all cry out for unconditional love? Could it be that this setup (a testing environment, performance driven) brings out the insecurity- the question, “do they only love me because I’ve performed to their standard?”
Rebellion isn’t necessarily bad. It’s actually a cry for unconditional love.
Speaking generally there are two different types of people in the world. There are people who are considered compliant- they want to fit in and make everyone happy. “Let’s not make waves.” Then there are people who are more strong-willed. Often they are labeled Black Sheep and they push the envelope. Most of us are a mixture of the two; choosing to be compliant in some areas and strong-willed in others.
In a situation like Stella’s when all eyes are on us we have two courses of action. We can try our hardest to meet the standards and cross our fingers that we will pass, thereby earning the approval that we seek. Or, we can rebel because we don’t want a love that is based on our performance! Consider with me that the “Rebel” actually displays a deeper, more complex understanding of themselves and their needs. A compliant person may never test God’s limits. But is he or she secure in God’s love? Or just living in fear of driving God away?
It’s a common understanding of childhood development that children (and especially teens) are always pushing to see if there is a limit to their parent’s love. “What if I can do something so terrible that my parents withdraw their love?” What a terrifying thought! And how devastating it would be if it were true! Conventional wisdom would side with the compliant response. “Why risk that? You should comply and fit yourself into this world’s mold.” But the end result is a constant nagging fear that “maybe I’m not enough. Maybe my performance won’t stand up to the critics in the audience.”
The bottom line for both a compliant and a strong-willed person is to trust in God’s unconditional love in spite of behavior. When the Rebel pushes the God-given standards, bad things happen that God was trying to protect them from. (And how does one know that they’ve tested his grace enough?) The Compliant needs to question his or her motive in following God’s standards… is it out of a spirit of trust or of fear?
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38