About a year ago, my husband and I added a beagle puppy to our family. He’s a perfect, energetic little bundle of brown fur and white, booted paws. His ears flop with every swivel of his curious head and his slender, white nose constantly inspects the ground.
His name is Rico. And, as I’m sure you can imagine given your experiential or even observed knowledge of dog owners, my husband and I love him dearly...
…which is why we’ve developed a very particular response to his anxiety.
For Rico, most moving things seen through the window are threatening — somehow.
Yes, our little Rico is an anxious puppy. His breathing often quickens when one of us leaves the apartment and he’s slowly learning not to neurotically bark at other dogs— no matter how far off they are when he passes by.
But there’s one anxious quirk in particular that my husband and I have learned to respond to with care: Rico’s fear of small, motionless, obscure, inanimate objects.
When he was younger, Rico usually categorized these objects as plastic bags, larger-than-usual rocks, and even weird-looking patches of grass. But these days, only the plastic bags and oddly shaped rocks typically make the cut— he’s graduated beyond fearing weird-looking patches of grass.
Nonetheless, whenever Rico approaches one of these unidentified objects during one of his walks, he inevitably begins dancing a kind of haphazard, half-circle around it. Always at about eighteen inches away, he’ll lean forward toward the object with his hind legs extended behind him as far as they can go— almost as if refusing to allow the back half of his torso to get too close. He sniffs the object, huffs a low nervous bark under his, darts backward and forward and then to the right or left, and repeats the process all over again.
Lean. Sniff. Huff. Dart.
This process repeats until Rico or the one holding the leash grows tired of waiting for his instinctual dance-of-fear to end.
And it can last. Oh, how it can last.
Something — anything — has caught Rico’s attention.
Somewhere along the journey of learning to love our little Rico, without planning or discussing it, my husband and I started responding to these bouts of fear in the same way.
As Rico starts his lean-sniff-huff-and-dart dance, we stoop down alongside him— sometimes on all fours— and approach the object slowly and confidently. Then we reach out and slowly touch the object to show Rico it wasn’t dangerous. We sometimes accompany this gesture with low, soft, reassuring declarations of Rico’s safety. It’s okay, Rico. It’s okay.
And surely enough, Rico inches forward alongside us, hind legs still extended nervously behind him, until his nose is no less than two inches away from the object in question.
What was once small, motionless, obscure, and scary for Rico became just another part of the landscape to sniff.
For a while, I’ve wondered what it was that first compelled my husband and me to our knees beside Rico. What was it that told us this was the way to help him conquer his fear?
The answer hit me yesterday during another one of Rico’s morning walks. This time the flu accompanied us, which meant that my fatigue and the burning sensation I felt as I breathed in the bitter, winter air had quite the adverse effect on my patience. I needed this morning walk to be as short as possible.
But just as sure as all inconveniences have perfect timing, one of those small, motionless, obscure, inanimate objects crossed Rico’s path in the form of a block of ice.
Behold! Rico's dance began.
Lean. Sniff. Huff. Dart.
And even though my nasal passages were still burning and my fatigued body still wailed for my warm bed something compelled me to inch forward, stoop low and turn the block over with my already freezing hand.
It’s okay, Rico. It’s okay.
Rico’s usual measure of “cute”.
It was love. Despite my waning patience and my ailing body, Love compelled me to stoop low alongside Rico’s fear until it melted away.
And it is an infinitely more perfect and robust Love that compels Christ Himself to do the same for us. As we walk through the valleys of our deepest fears, the Good shepherd stoops low alongside us, His rod and staff extended before us to ward off any shrouded prey.
He has walked this valley before, experienced the temptations that frame its shadowy path. He knows from experience that it will, in fact, be Okay and so He reassures us with the Truth.
The Word of God Himself takes our right hand at the brink of Fear’s onset. Just before giving that presentation at the front of the lecture hall, just before involuntarily stepping into unemployment, just before a marriage seemingly crashes against the rocks, He declares, “Here is My peace. I am that I am. And I am with you.”
The reality of our security in Him resounds over every situation. The sincerity of His sovereignty debunks the myth of every defeat.
We learn from Christ Himself that fear isn’t something to be conquered alone. He in Whom we live and move and have our being— the stronghold of life itself— has shown us that fear is best approached in partnership.
Sister and brother. Parent and child. Friend and friend. Dog owner and puppy.
You are not weak because you dance half-circles around your fears.
You just haven’t yet looked to your right.
13 For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
Originally published onMedium.com.