When I realized that Isaac was the dog for me, I did what any first-time "parent" does, whether the creature entrusted to them is two-legged or four-legged.
I bought a lot of stuff.
Walking into the pet store, an employee greeted me and asked if I needed anything. Little did he know what he was asking. I pulled out my tablet, showed him a photo of Isaac, smiled as he called him a "good looking dog," and then played with the screen until my shopping list appeared. I told him, "I am your dream customer. This is my first dog, he needs everything, and I don't want anything used or on sale."
The employee, who would later become Isaac's trainer, laughed and read the first item on my list: a car seat. I explained that I didn't really want a car seat--just something that would keep him safe riding in the car. He did not laugh at me this time, and I was grateful.
He led me to the harnesses and demonstrated how there was a seat belt loop on it to secure Isaac in the car. He then pulled out a leash to match it. I had only seen leashes around a dog's neck, yet he was attaching this one to the harness. I asked why.
He explained that the harness wrapped around Isaac's whole chest, and I would have much more control of him when out walking. If he started to pull away from me, chasing a scent, it would be easier to keep hold of him than if the leash were only around his neck. When I got home, we began using the harness on Isaac's walks. He and I both loved it. I used the harness faithfully and frequently. Even when he would pull on it, I could usually keep a good grip on him.
After a few months, two things happened: I got lazy, and I got in a hurry. As soon as I would take it off the shelf, Isaac would try to leap into harness by sticking his head between the straps. I'd get frustrated, and he'd get tangled. He would also try to "help" by biting the harness. It would take longer for us to leave, walks would be longer, and I'd occasionally have to put back together what his teeth pulled apart. The harness soon sat on the shelf unless needed for a car ride, and Isaac went back to an old-fashioned leash attached to his collar. It was quicker, easier, and he seemed to like it just as well.
Isaac has come a long way in the past year, but he does still pull on the leash when he finds an irresistible scent. As I used the collar instead of the harness, Isaac began swallowing a lot. He would gasp for air when reaching his snout, the collar tight across his throat. He would not readily return to me when I called him back to me. I would have to stand firmly to keep from falling down. None of these changes were immediately evident; they only showed with time. A few weeks ago, concerned about his gasping and my sore shoulders, I pulled the harness out again. I thought back on why I'd quit using it: impatience and self-centeredness.
No matter how much money I invested in Isaac's harness (and food and bed and toys and... I'd better stop the confessions now), I skimped on time. When I "felt the pull" on my own time schedule, I made changes that could've hurt both of us in the long run.
For many of us, when we start "feeling the pull" of life's demands, one of the first commitments we tend to "skimp" on is the time we devote to God and the Church. When the football game ends late on Saturday night, we sleep in on Sunday morning instead of worshipping. Of course, we all need a nap now and then! But the next Sunday, even though there's no football game on Saturday, it's easy just to sleep in again, creating a bad habit. At the end of a long day, when the kids have homework to do and the evening news is coming on, it's easier to dig into dinner without pausing for a prayer of blessing.
Easier is not always better. What seems easy in the present moment, like attaching Isaac's leash to his collar, may not be good for any of us in the long run. So it is when we skimp on time with God.
In I Timothy 4, Paul writes to his friend, encouraging him to maintain spiritual disciplines and to keep his faith: "Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation" (4:15-16, The Message). Paul and Timothy were both familiar with the pulls of the world and everyday life. It would have been easy for their hearts to become un-harnessed from God, and it's easy for us to do the same. In the long run, we all will benefit from investing not just our money but also our time in God's kingdom.
What is the "harness" that you've put on a shelf? How might you start using it again? Take it from the walker of a re-harnessed dog: walks are much better when on the dog's time table, and our lives will be, too, if we live into God's timeline.
all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian (and her harnessed pup, Isaac, aka "Laughter")