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Old Dog, New Tricks

Pippy is stuck in a rut.

On our daily walks, Pippy insists we stop at exactly the same spots so she can conduct her regular sniffing routine.

First, she demands (via stubborn pulling) that I stop at her favorite corner where the scent of a particular pine tree tickles her nose. Then, one block later, she pulls again next to the tall bush with an earthy aroma. Pippy finds this bush intensely enticing.

After she sniffs for a moment, I give her leash a tug and direct her back to our walk but, less than a minute later, she yanks on the leash again. This time we’re near the rusty mailbox. Pippy loves this rusty mailbox. By her frantic sniffing, I suspect there is gold underneath all of that rust. Or maybe rust just has a tantalizing scent to a dog’s keen nose.

On our short fifteen-minute walk around the neighborhood Pippy encounters at least a dozen of these specific stop and sniff locations. This is her habit and, for years, I’ve allowed it to become ingrained in her doggie brain, controlling the pace and pauses of our walk.

But that’s about to change.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but I’m determined to prove “them” wrong by teaching Pippy how to live free of her routine.

After some at-home dog psychotherapy exercises, I discovered that Pippy doesn’t actually need to stop and smell the same patches of grass every day. She doesn’t use these stops to fulfill the basic needs of her bladder. She just wants to stop because she’s used to stopping. It has become her habit. Routine sniffing is Pippy’s rut.

But Pippy isn’t the only one stuck in a rut. I’m stuck in one, too.

Like Pippy, I do the same things over and over again, day in and day out. I go to the same places, at the same time. I think the same thoughts on repeat. I speak the same words to myself day after day after day.

The truth is, I’m no different than Pippy. I’m trapped in a well-engrained cycle. I’m stuck in a rut.

But I’m confident that this old dog can learn new tricks.

Teaching Pippy to break her stop and sniff habit is helping me get unstuck, too. While walking Pippy I’ve discovered that my will power is key to reforming her behavior. If I am halfhearted and weak, Pippy is bound to pull me back to the same sniffing spots she has a thousand times before. In order to change her pattern and teach her how to walk obediently I must hold firm and keep walking (even when Pippy is pulling so hard on the leash it feels like my arm might pop out of its socket).

The same principles of determination and will power apply to breaking free of my own rut.

In order to get unstuck I must surrender my will to God and follow Jesus, not my habits and hang-ups, with determination. I must let obedience to Christ dictate my day, not my routine. I must cease trying to take the lead and let Him order my every start and stop.

While trapped in the rut of my routine I will never be a fluid follower of Jesus. As long as I’m caught up in my habits I’m doomed to a life of stubborn rigidity. Like Pippy yanking and pulling on the leash, my walk with God will be unpleasant and short on peace until I release my will and let the Holy Spirit direct my life.

Jesus must be my pack leader. He must be the one who is telling me when I can stop and go. When He says, “pause,” that’s when I pause. When He says, “walk this way,” then I need to be free of my rut so I can heed the call.

Outside the confines of my rut and routine is a great, big, beautiful world and God will show it to me if I will just stop yanking on His leash. As soon as I relinquish control of my habits and hang-ups and let Christ renew my routine, He will amaze me with awe and wonder as He daily rewrites me a new, wonderful normal.

Pippy and I are both getting older but we are never too old to learn new tricks.  

 

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:25