Fear That Vetoes Joy
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I have a 4 year old English Mastiff dog, you may have seen him in some of the pictures on the site. If you don't know about English Mastiff's they are very emotionally in-tune to everything, and their emotions don't forget anything...at all...ever. They also slobber a lot but that's beside the point. When we brought my pup home (his name is Jager, named after the giant robots in a favorite movie called Pacific Rim) he was 6 weeks old and when birds chirped it scared him so bad he would come and sit between my legs until I went back inside. He has always been this sensitive. One firm "no" and he would never go near that part of the house again as he would associate it with the time you were upset. Even if the "no" wasn't for him like when it was given to my 6yo for wiping her boogers on the wall lol. 

A couple winters ago Jager slipped on one of our three steps up onto the deck and for over a year or so he would walk all the way around to the other side of the house to come in the front door (which also has 3 steps). When he slipped...he barely slipped, but it scared him and caused him to leap up off the step and run for the door... he never got hurt, and if you saw him, you'd know he doesn't even need to use the steps..he's huge.

Another thing about this guy is he LOVES to cuddle. You cannot pass by Jager's doggy bed without him rolling sideways and putting his paw out asking for pets. We let him on the couch with us..always have and he's always loved it. He often lays on my face because he can't get close enough... and I love it! I almost always have to change my shirt afterward as it'll be covered in slobber and hair...but I don't care as it's totally worth it because I love him.

But recently, and this breaks my heart, he is fearful to join me on the couch. Now usually I can track back what happened like him slipping on the steps but this time I can't. He runs over when I sit on the couch, even prances over toward me...until I see the fear hit him and you can tell the moment the fear hits him as it stops him in his tracks. He goes from trotting over to sulking to me and then he sits as fast as he can on the floor before I can call him up because he doesn't want the pressure of me trying to call him up on the couch. He's been doing this for awhile. What my wife and I have done to work around this is distract him. She will call him to her away from the couch and he forgets his fear, and then she'll run to the couch and at the same time I'll call him and the joy of the moment often causes him to forget his fear and he hops up... but the effectiveness of this has been diminishing and tonight it wasn't working at all.

No tonight there was no convincing. Tonight the fear's have magnified. They have gone from whatever the original offense was...no idea, may have not even been related, but now Jager gets apprehensive when I sit on the couch, worried that I may call him up. I do see him in his bed next to the couch start to wag his tail when I sit. At this point we've sat together on the couch so many times that one side of the couch hardly reclines (but still does)... Sometimes I think that's what did it. I have sat on the other side and a couple times I've gotten him to join me there. It reclines better without the clunking noises...so maybe that has something to do with it. But regardless, now he won't join me at all on either side and this has been a problem for a couple months. He wants to, he wags his tail from his bed, but the moment I call him over...the wagging stops and his head lowers. I've seen this look before.

I've seen this look when we have to take him to the vet, I've seen this look when we have to get him in the tub for a bath, I've seen this look when didn't want to get up on the deck anymore after slipping, and I've seen this look after he jumped for the back of the truck and missed and would no longer come near my truck.

It's the fear that veto's the joy. It's the fear that robs the joy. Oddly it's the fear that is provoked specifically because of the joy. As the opportunity for joy arises it instead becomes an opportunity that fear makes use of.

I know this so well, but not because of Jager but because of me. Jager's relationship with me must look much like my relationship with God. The very thing Jager wants the most which is cuddle time is completely vetoed by the fear that is associated with it. I often don't open my bible, go to church, or even pray for fear of the fear that may be provoked when doing so. Oh how I've missed having an unguarded heart before God, one that could enjoy Him unabated.

Now Jager could be prancing around the house happy but it's gotten to the point that if I call him up that changes instantly and often he'll even slunk over to his bed...why? His bed is a safe place. It's what he knows. It's where he spends most of his time (his breed is a low energy breed). Take away his bed and that alone causes him anxiety, but as soon as you bring it back you can see relief in his eyes. I once hung up decorations on the ceiling above his bed for a celebration for my oldest daughter and I remember he sulked all day that day and we couldn't figure out why. It wasn't until we took the decorations down that Jager returned to normal. They were simply large snowflakes hung from the ceiling but what bothered him is, it wasn't what he knows. This theory was proven every time we get new furniture or change anything else up in his environment.

What bums me out is I love Jager to pieces. I want him to enjoy my loving on him and he does too. The very thing he wants the most gets overridden with fear and it's a fear I can't even quantify. Nothing happened...our kids have since left the house so it wasn't them. My wife and I are both sensitive to this in Jager so we do everything we can to make sure there's nothing that's going to spook him.

What's even more frustrating is we know better. In all these things we know better but Jager doesn't. I know he can still physically join me on the couch without getting hurt just like I knew he could navigate the steps. But his heart was fearful and nothing I knew was going to change that. This is what is the most discouraging for me. The only thing keeping me from doing what I want which is loving on him and the only thing keeping him from getting what he wants the most which is me loving on him is what appears to be an unfounded, unjustified, irrational fear that he can't get over. The more I try to help him work through it, the more it gets seated in his mind as a bad thing.

He once missed when jumping into the back of the truck when he was younger. I was parked on a hill that caused the jump to be higher than normal, he jumped but not enough and couldn't pull himself all the way up and fell back down. He landed on his feet but the whole thing was terrifying for him. I had to pick him up and put him in the extra cab (no wonder I have back problems). To this day, 3 years later, he will NOT jump into the back of any vehicle... I even backed the truck up to a hill where the tailgate was on the dirt... he literally could walk straight in but won't do it..not for anything. I tried and I tried and I tried and I tried to help him get through that fear because I love to take him places but he won't have it. Sure he loved to go places, but when the fear is in sight, that's all he sees. Did I mention he's 165lbs now.. all muscle? If he doesn't want to get in the back of the truck, he's pretty much not getting in the back of the truck, and my back isn't getting younger. So now he rides in the extra cab... Does he fit? Nope. He can't turn around. But nothing bad has ever happened there so he's willing which is good enough for me. A window rolled down and a fun destination to go are still things that make him wag his tail. I'll never get the hair out that's woven in my seat..but whatever. It's worth it to me to be able to bless him as that's my heart's desire.

Here's what I'm getting at. From my perspective what do I do? I so bad want Jager to enjoy all that I have for him, I love him very much. But how do I get him on the couch to enjoy cuddles if fear has taken over? I can't even get him near the couch hardly let alone on it. From his perspective, as much as his tail wags and you can clearly see he wants to, yet the fear takes over and shuts that down and he is done.

I wish I could reason with him. I wish I could walk him through the depth of my wisdom compared to his on the safety and reliability of sitting on the couch. I wish I could convince his heart that he can trust me when I call him that it's safe to come up. I wish he knew how many more things I could see than him and how many more things are in my power than he could fathom and therefore take me at my word instead of listening to what his fears are speaking.

It doesn't bother me that he has fears. It bothers me that the fears rob him of joy and robs him of the ways I want to bless him. It bothers me greatly actually. I hate that it also hinders our relationship cuddle times. I want him to enjoy being nestled up under my wing (or across my face as you see in the picture) but he won't have it. I may still be strong enough to force him on the couch but two things will happen. One his fear association with cuddles will amp up WAAAAY more than they are right now and I risk him not drawing near to me at all even if the couch isn't involved. And two, the moment I let go after forcing him up there he would jump down and run to his bed afraid of me and the couch. The only way he is going to overcome this fear is to make the choice to take me at my word. Because no way am I ever going to be able to impart my knowledge and wisdom into his brain, he cannot fathom what I am capable of knowing.

He doesn't know that I won't decline the chair while he's sprawled out on it with me, he doesn't know that the couch won't fall over backwards when he jumps up. He doesn't know that the squishy cushions of the couch won't give way and cause him to fall through. He doesn't know that I'm not worried about the couch and keeping it in pristine condition... I know these things, but he doesn't. Just like the back of the truck or the deck. He doesn't know when I'm backed up to the hill and the tailgate is on the ground that he can't miss. He doesn't know the deck isn't slippery in the summer time. These are all things I know, but he does not. He's a very smart dog, crazy smart as far as dogs go but intelligence isn't the issue. It's that what he knows speaks louder to him than me and what I know, and unfortunately what he knows is skewed.

I once owned a husky-mix as well, her name was Sasha... wow that's was a stubborn dog. She was half Jager's size and would try and jump in the truck with the tailgate up, sometimes she'd make it, sometimes she'd run smack into the tailgate and unfazed she'd try again before I even got to the truck to open the tailgate for her. She broke her leg once, not the bone but the tendon. Watched her leg flop behind her as she still ran or tried to as best as a newly 3 legged dog can...and though the pain made her cry as she ran she was still 100% convinced she could run and kept trying. Man I wish I had confidence like that but I don't and neither does Jager. Why? Because I'm super aware that tendons can break so the moment it does I'd know it. Jager would too. Can I tell you that I often wish I identified with Sasha... but I don't. I'm a Jager. Now I greatly favor Jager for his tenderness, gentleness, he's extremely loving, crazy thoughtful..if he thinks you're hurt he stops everything he's doing to come check on you. I've had him hug me deliberately because I'm in pain. Sasha was more likely to be the one inflicting the pain on you. And as I sit here troubleshooting how can I solve this fear thing with Jager I feel God may be troubleshooting the same thing with me.

After all isn't God more wise than I? Isn't He more loving? He is the Good Shepherd and while I think that's true I still have to reconcile in my own mind my fears before I can really enjoy that...or Him, and I've been unable to reconcile my own fears, even as I write this. But tonight as I ponder Jager and his relationship with me I see myself in my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I want Jager to take me at my word when I call Him on the couch and I imagine my Heavenly Father wants me to take Him at His Word as well.

As I process through Jager's potential reasonings I see my own futile reasonings before my Heavenly Father. Jager may be fearful that the couch is going to collapse with him inside it, he may be fearful that he's going to hurt me when he jumps up.. Jager lacks the understanding that I know the stability of the couch and likewise can keep myself from getting hurt when he jumps up but he doesn't know that. Maybe he fears the couch will explode because he heard a firework go off on New Years. Maybe he's worried the couch will be ICY and he's going to slip on it. Sure these kind of fears sound ridiculous to us but they may be very real ones to him.

Likewise our fears are very real to us but may be completely unfounded and even ridiculous in the eyes of God. If Jager could pray in those moments to me I wonder what he would pray. Would he pray "Oh my earthly father, Ryan be your name. I pray you will give me strength that I could reach the great heights of the couch to once again bask in your presence", or perhaps He'd pray "All powerful Ryan, the opener and closer of doors, please give me understanding that I may too know the mysteries of couchdom and overcome my shortcomings that keep me from joining you where you are". Do you know Jager actually has a very high pain tolerance? But his emotional pain tolerance is very very low. I've hardly heard him whimper in pain but I've had him come to me and whimper to get on the couch with me, not a whine but an ache, for it was a longing of his that was going unmet...for each time I would grant it and then the fears kick in and off to his bed he goes. In those times I wonder if the prayer would be more like "Dear Ryan, you've made it known you want a better relationship with me and likewise that is what I also want, but you won't grant it to me to even join you on the couch, therefore I struggle to believe that you care, or sometimes I wonder if you're even powerful enough to reach me in my great peril. I'm beginning to wonder have you have forgotten to be gracious to me, or have you in anger withdrawn your compassion? (cf. Psalms 77:9).

From my perspective I've crossed the T's and dotted the I's. Everything has been provisioned for him to enjoy all the benefits I have to offer...he neither lacks the invitation nor the ability. He even has the heart to, in fact his heart longs to so much so that he whimpers for it and looks at me with those big sad eyes when I don't solve the "issue".

The problem isn't his love for me, for who would even endure this much inner turmoil for a relationship they didn't want, his whimpers are real and heart melting to hear. The problem isn't my love for him, on my end I very much want the cuddles too and have made every provision for him to join me on the couch. The problem isn't an external one but rather an internal one, inside Jager. Fear is speaking louder to him than anything else and for him if it's not solved in his mind then there will be no moving forward.

Isn't this also our problem with our relationship with God?

I often wonder as Jager is processing if his fears resemble mine before God. What I mean is, I have fears too and they are very legitimate to me. I very much want to trust God in all things and enjoy my relationship with Him and like Jager I even whimper to do so and I whimper often (cry aloud). And like my speculations with Jager I often have a hard time not coming to some pretty hard to consider conclusions when God doesn't answer. Things like having lost my salvation, not being loved by God, having committed the unpardonable sin, never being saved in the first place, God not being real, Jesus not being real, and I (and you) could go on and on. If Jager fears the couch being icy when it's not...can I answer that fear by making the couch not icy... And if Jager believes the couch is icy right now when it isn't, then if I somehow make it not icy he'll see nothing has changed and may not take me at my word. If Jager pleads with me to give him stronger muscles and longer legs, that he would be able to join me on the couch even though he currently stands higher on all four legs then even the back of the couch when it's sitting up...will then giving him longer legs solve the issue? Not likely if perhaps momentarily. Because the issue isn't the ability to easily get on the couch but it's fear and his heeding that fear that is the issue.

So we cry out to God to take the fear away don't we?

But imagine if I could take Jager's fear away according to how Jager may want me to. I've already solved the actual problems and made full provisions for Jager to get on the couch so there's no actual and real justifiable reason for him not to. The problem is an inward one. For I have a sensitive dog who is very empathetic and in-tune, and with this is very timid. So maybe I just miraculously replace the timidness with bravery. The problem with that is in order to remove timidness I have to dull his sensitivity and/or reduce his intelligence. And if I'm to remove his fear of hurting me I have to dim his empathetic in-tune heart. If I did these things I would no longer have a Jager...I would have a Sasha. And while I love Sasha, I really love these attributes of Jager that Sasha didn't have. (Sasha NEVER cuddled with me... I literally had to suspend her in air so her legs didn't hit the ground in order to get her to stop fighting us long enough for my mother-in-law to help trim her nails) I could get rid of the couch, or stop calling Jager over...for that matter I could stop calling him to anything and let him stay in his bed all day but that would do away with all the good those provisions were meant for and would leave Jager's tank on empty. He needs those things.

So what do I do?

I love Jager and feel he is quite gifted and uniquely made and is what every person dreams a teddy bear would be and I don't want to lose that. So hardening him up would be more painful for me to endure than hearing him whimper so I'm not doing that. So seriously what now? I have pondered this quite a while, my mind troubleshooting it tonight extensively for I feel if I could understand this with Jager then perhaps I could understand better my (our) hangups with God for I feel my issues with God and Jager's issues with me are very similar in nature and perhaps God is teaching through this.


I spent some time discussing this with fellow sufferers and their suggestions for me and Jager I felt could be applied to God and us. I'll share that in the next article titled "Faith That Vetoes Fear".


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