When Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times," I wonder if he had an energetic dog who loved to go for walks. The majority of blog posts I write about Isaac the Insightful revolve around walks with my Labrador-Eskimo-Collie. Perhaps God speaks most clearly when I'm (a) enjoying His outdoor creation, (b) engaging in physical exercise, and (c) letting a little dog "lead" me. Or is that I can hear him more clearly in these circumstances of self-care?

This time, it's a tale of two walks that gave me pause.

On the first walk, Isaac and I were running later than usual, and traffic was heavier. I had to change the route and keep Isaac on a shorter leash as cars flew by. Understandably, he was frustrated with these changes. Frustration can lead to disobedience, for both canines and humans. For Isaac, disobedience usually occurs in a public setting. At one of the busiest intersections in town, at one of the busiest times of day, Isaac decided he'd had enough. He sat down in the middle of the street. He glared at me. He would not budge.

Equally frustrated, I also slipped into disobedience. I broke every rule that his trainer taught me. I yelled, "NO!" I jerked on the leash. I dragged him to the nearest yard, pointed my finger at him, and lectured him on obedience. Yes, I know. My name is Darian, and I'm a hypocrite (Hi, Darian!). He sat down in the middle of that lawn. He glared at me. He would not budge. I said, "let's go" with the enthusiasm of someone headed for a root canal. I stepped forward, only to be pulled back by a dog who looked like he would rather have a root canal than be with me.

I pulled on the leash with enough force to get him next to me, and we eventually made our way home.

On the second walk, we left at our usual time. While there were few cars out, we did run into other distractions. Squirrels, birds, other dogs, and various scents tried to lure Isaac away from me. He tried to pull me into various yards. After the "worst of times" walk, I'd decided to take a different approach. I was going to adhere to the trainer's rules again. I would try to keep a positive attitude. I would avoid using the word, "no," and I would try not to jerk on his leash. When a scent would distract him, I'd stand still and say happily, "Come on, Isaac! Leave it, and let's go!" and walk on. Eventually, he would leave the scent and follow me. Sure, there was resistance. Frustration tried to creep in. But I still used my high pitched voice to lure him along.

We reached "the intersection." Isaac wanted to travel north. I needed to head south towards home. He pulled one way. I faced the other. He looked at me, not with a glare but with a plea of, "Please, can't we go where I smell a cat on the other side of town?" I knelt down, opened my arms, and said with a smile, "Come here, bud."

Tail wagging and tongue hanging out, he ran over and pressed his snout against my shoulder. It was a Kodak moment.

Then I stood up, and he tried to pull me north again.

I knelt down again. Repeat the Kodak moment. This time, when I said, "let's go," I jumped up and started running south. Isaac ran after me. The northern scent of cat was forgotten, and we found our way home.

It's no wonder that Isaac wouldn't follow me on that "worst of times" walk. I was not cool. I was not enjoyable. I was negative. Who wants to be around such a downer?

What Isaac did want to follow were a voice of anticipation and arms that were open to loving him.

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15, New Revised Standard Version)

Questions have swirled for years about why our churches' memberships are declining and why people are turning away from God and the Church. These complex questions have a variety of complex answers. I won't attempt to answer them. But I do think some solutions can begin with simple changes in us as disciples.

Do you walk through life in the "clothing" of Colossians that catches people's attention? Or have you been hanging your head for so long in frustration that you ignore the needs of others?

Does your church have a spirit of joy so evident that people want to come and worship as eagerly as Isaac ran into my arms? Or are you pushing people away with negative tones?

Isaac was happy to follow the voice of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. That's the voice I want to follow. That's the voice I want to be. That's the voice I desire my congregations to be.

How about you?

all good things to each of you, Pastor Darian

Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.

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