Last weekend my family adopted a dog from the county pound. Charlie is a beautiful lab mutt, with perhaps a dash of Retriever or Aussie. He is settling in nicely with our family and is proving to be a wonderful dog. But Charlie has one very strong trait – fear. The pound was such a traumatic place for him that he refused to leave his kennel voluntarily. While he warmed up to us right away, he continued to tremble with fear at each new thing. He had to be coaxed into the car, into the house, out of the house, and into any other room besides the living room. He cowers when we pass other people or dogs on the sidewalk. We don’t know his history, but there’s a very good chance that our sweet Charlie has experienced some abuse. And even though he’s safe and loved and in a caring home now, it is going to take a long time to get over those fears and learned behaviors. He might never fully get over them.
I have to admit that I really identify with Charlie. The most painful experiences of my past have left me with deep, irrational fears that lurk in places too deep to root out easily. I keep a pretty good poker face most of the time, but inside I cower and cringe and tremble on a regular basis. There are times when I want to hide my head in the pillow the way Charlie hides his face in my lap. I know that I’m safe, that I’m loved, and that I’m home. But some fears stubbornly remain.
I don’t think I’m unique in this experience. We are all formed by our past – especially by the events of our childhoods. If our trust was violated at a young age by neglect, abuse, abandonment, betrayal, or death, it can shape the very way we understand the world and all that we come to expect of it. If later events reinforce those fears (and sometimes our fearful behavior can help create repetition of those experiences), healing and freedom are even harder to come by. Often we take our fears into our relationship with God – the place where we are in fact completely safe and completely loved. Like Charlie with his new family, we cringe and cower and duck away from the loving and gentle hand of God that reaches out to care for us.
So how do we heal? Just as Charlie is noticeably more at ease after just a few days with us, I think that healing begins when we open ourselves to relationships that are loving and safe – both with others and with God. When we have experiences that dis-prove our fears, trust begins to grow there. Sometimes though, we need more than this. We need a transformation that is a healing gift of God’s grace. I think this comes to each person differently, as we journey with God. I've experienced that beautiful grace before, and as I pet Charlie's soft head I am filled with hope for all of us who are in need of God's healing care.