Living As An Orphaned Dog – A Difficult Lesson On Trust

The Issue of Trust

It’s something we hear a lot of people say – “I have trust issues.”

What an incredibly sad thing to hear. “I have trust issues.” This translates to, “I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel truly loved. I don’t believe I can ever have security or let myself be known.” And while trust issues isolate, they simultaneously say, “I can’t be alone. I need a guardian.” It invites a state of tension and anxiety – a state that needs a companion to find security and protection in, but cannot allow anyone to fill that role for fear of being betrayed.

Trusting people is very hard. Even with all the evidence in the world that shows they can rely on someone, these people, myself included, will find themselves falling back on sneaking suspicions, questioning the integrity and reliability of the other person. And it’s not limited to one kind of person or relationship. There is no trusting friends, significant others, parents, siblings, strangers, even ourselves.

Where do these trust issues come from?

From being hurt, we answer. From being let down before. From letting someone in and having them take what faith we had.

Perhaps, but I think that’s the knee-jerk answer. It’s the obvious one. This answer is not sufficient because it does not provide a solution. How can we respond to that to find healing? “You have trust issues because people have hurt you. So you simply have to trust people again.” This is not only logically fallible but nearly impossible for someone who has been hurt deeply by people. But what would we find if we delve deeper, removing the armor that we know is bolted on to someone with trust issues? What would we find at the skin underneath, or even deeper, the very heart?

The Issue of Trusting Fully

About a month ago, I adopted a dog. Curry, a beautiful mutt, is about 3 years old. Before being fostered in December 2015, the only life he knew was being a stray – an orphan. His behavior shows signs of being abused and neglected. (Honestly, looking at him, you can’t help but wonder how on earth someone could do such a horrible thing. I mean, his face is just too adorable for words. I can’t handle it.) Curry is a timid and gentle soul. He retracts from being touched and walks on the opposite side of the sidewalk, room, even street if he has the option, from anyone in the vicinity. He is alert. His ears are always up and turning like satellites, taking in the sounds. And if a sound is loud or threatening, his muscles are immediately in flight mode – his legs are ready to run and his eyes are wide, standing low to the ground like a runner waiting for the gunshot that signals the start of a race.

Thankfully over the last month, Curry has learned that I am safe. I have become his chosen one, his mama, best friend, and confidant. He wags his tail and pushes his head into my lap for hugs when I come home from work, when I return from taking out the trash, even when I just wake up in the morning. He follows at my heels when I am doing chores. He comes when I call. He takes any opportunity to be completely enveloped in my arms.

“He loves you,” my roommate said to me. “He trusts you.”

This made my heart swell up with love for my dog and pride that I had made it. I had earned the trust of a dog who had no reason to trust anyone. Even if he had never trusted me, I still loved him completely. But having his love and trust in return? That was wonderful to me.

I started taking Curry on regular walks, taking the same path every time. We live near a lake, so we would walk down to the lake, along its coast for a while, then up into town and return home. Like most dogs, Curry eventually learned the route, taking the turns without needing my signal and finding regular stopping points to do his business.

But one night, I noticed another sign that he knew the route. Downtown is completely lined with small businesses, so there’s a lot of foot traffic. When we would reach downtown, Curry would pull away from the doors into the street. He would dart at any noise. If I wasn’t holding the leash, he would probably take off. Other than my tight hold on a very short leash, it was as if I wasn’t even there.

“Curry,” I pleaded, “I’m right here. Curry, it’s okay. Curry. Curry!” But it was like he couldn’t even hear his name.

So I stopped right in the middle of the sidewalk and pulled him in close. I held him tightly and rubbed his head and back. I spoke quietly to him, “Curry, I’m right here. No one will hurt you. It’s okay.” But instead of relaxing like he usually would, he remained tense. By his body language, it was as if I didn’t exist. I took his face in my hands and turned him toward me, speaking gently to him again, the same words over and over. His eyes looked everywhere but my face.

We couldn’t stay there forever, so after holding him a bit longer, I got up and led him, pulling and fearful, back home.

I thought to myself as I fought to keep him on the path, “Why didn’t he respond to me? Why does it seem like he can’t even hear me or remember his name? Why did he act afraid of me, too?”

The answer came as quickly as the questions – “He doesn’t trust me.”

What brought me to this conclusion? Clearly, he trusted me, right? On the surface, yes, but Curry did not trust me fully. He did not trust me to keep him safe when there was potential danger. He did not trust me to not abandon him in the midst of chaos. He did not trust me to lead him home.

Trust goes deeper than simply being the one he chooses over everyone else – it’s being the one he could believe in for safety, the best intentions, and the best results.

The Issue of Trusting God

Ultimately, trust issues don’t simply say, “I don’t feel safe.” This statement says something deeper. “I don’t feel safe,” says, “I fear.”

“I fear,” then turns back around and says, “I don’t trust God.”

You might be thinking, “That’s a stretch.” You may not even believe in God. So how can I come to that conclusion?

First, I have had trust issues with God for as long as I can remember. I still do. I am all too familiar with the tension of wanting intimacy and companionship, but pushing any hint of that far away moments after it shows up. These issues were worsened when my heart was broken, when I met trials, and when my health lost all reliability. I didn’t realize it was trust issues with God at first. It took years and years of the turmoil breaking down walls to reach the vulnerable heart beneath.

That night I was walking Curry, I saw myself all too clearly. When it was just him and me on the lakefront, he was trusting of me. When potential trouble rose, I was all but forgotten. I am the same with God. I see and hear God so clearly when I’m led beside still waters and through quiet pastures (Psalm 23). But when night falls and we step into the valley of the shadow of death, I fear all evil. I can no longer hear God’s voice. The name God has given me – redeemed, chosen, loved, secured, child of the King – is foreign to my ears. His touch goes unfelt by my tense muscles. On the surface, I trust God. But oh, I do not trust Him fully. And like how I would never take Curry where I will not be, put him in places where he is in danger, or fail my promise to get him home, God is the same.

Second, life is about God. The big questions we ask about our souls, about our livelihood, about meaning – they are about knowing God or pushing Him out of the picture.

At its very roots, life is about God. Whether you shake your fist at him, consider him so distant that his existence is irrelevant, or tremble before him because you feel that you are under his judgment, the reality is this: the basic questions of life and the fundamental issues of the human heart are about God. Life is about knowing him or avoiding him.
Edward T. Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness

This is a philosophical discussion that I could have a whole separate post about, but let’s keep going. We’re almost to the heart.

If the root of feeling unsafe is a lack of trust in God, then repairing the root will bring everything else back to life. Right? It’s a little more complicated – but so much more beautiful – than that.

Because the truth is, people are unreliable. They always will be unreliable. You, reader, cannot even rely on yourself. How many times have you slept through an alarm, forgotten something on your schedule, failed a test, have fallen sick? If you’re like me, it’s countless times. And if you’re like me, then we can conclude everyone is unreliable. This is unfortunately never going to change. So fixing the root – trusting God – isn’t going to restore our trust in people.

So what will fixing the root do? Repairing roots is a painful, long process. Why would we even try?

The Solution of Trusting God

Trusting God is not about meeting ease and creating a risk-free environment. We’re promised trouble. Jesus says so Himself in John 16:33. But Jesus then says in Matthew – twice – to not fear, once in Matthew 6 and again in Matthew 10. In Matthew 10, Jesus specifically addresses fearing people.

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:28-31

Jesus begins by saying do not fear people. And not because they’re trustworthy, but because they cannot take what is eternal and most valuable – the soul. Instead, says Jesus, fear God.

Fear God? Aren’t we trying to get rid of fear? Yes, we’re aiming to trust God. But we must understand that God is both justice and mercy, wrath and love. That He is sovereign over the fate of our souls. But it’s this complete picture that makes Him fully reliable. An incomplete picture is moldable and changeable to our perceptions and preferences. And this God, this God of these seemingly paradoxical traits, with the ability to destroy, securely holds His children for all eternity.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
John 10:28-29

We can count on God to hold our souls.

Jesus then continues, using the example of a sparrow. This little, common bird, brown, overlooked, available by the dozen. “And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” God does not ignore the life of the sparrow – that is clear here and everyone who has read this verse remembers that. But I want to look at the last two words – “your Father.” I don’t know what kind of father you had growing up. But all of us, regardless of how our fathers raised us, and especially if they were unloving, know what an ideal father should look like. The father we want is present. He is gentle. He cares, he sees our struggle, he offers wisdom and comfort, he is involved. He loves, and loves fully.

God is that perfect, fully-loving Father.

And He is our Father.

This means we are not orphans. We are not walking alone, struggling to figure out life and find our next meal. We don’t need to fight for control over our security because God has already won that battle and knows what’s best. We are children of the everlasting, reliable, intimate, all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign Father.

Why are we living as orphaned dogs when we are adopted children?

So our broken root – the struggle to trust God – finds repair.

And this flows into our day to day lives, but perhaps not in the way we expected. God Himself even says not to trust people (Psalm 118:8). So instead, when we trust fully in God, we find that we don’t fear people because we trust God to walk us through whatever pain we encounter. They will let us down, but God will not. And even beyond that, it’s not meaningless pain. God will only allow what looks like failures for our good and His glory.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
II Corinthians 4:17-18

Where we place our trust points to where we place our treasure. Treasure the eternal that cannot be taken. Treasure your heavenly Father who cannot fail and secures your every breath in His perfect plan. Treasure how He is working in your life and the lives of those around you, that even in failures and pain and what looks like chaos, it’s doing everything but nothing.

Leave behind your previous life as an orphan. If you are in Christ, you are a child of the King. You are on your way home.

October 5, 2015

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