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Dog in Pain: reflections on spiritual warfare
Saturday, June 10, 2023 by Becky Cerling Powers

A few years ago my husband Dennis and his employee Glen were in Dennis’ home office working, when they heard a dog squealing in pain.

They ran to the front yard where the noise came from and found our dog Dodger hung up on the front gate.

Dodger had obviously been up to his Artful Dodger tricks

He had tried to escape the yard to go adventuring by jumping up on the front gate to jiggle the latch with his front paw. The gate on our chain link fence closes with a latch held firm by a steel rod that fits into a hole at the base of the gate. Dodger’s paw slipped between the steel rod and the top edge of the gate and got stuck.

He was in panic.

He didn’t realize he could lift his paw to dislodge it. So he danced on his hind legs, caught by his front paw and wedging the paw deeper into the crack, pinching it worse and worse. In his frenzy, he was starting to bite at his leg. A panicky dog left in that situation long enough will actually bite off his own leg to get out.

Dogs in pain are dangerous because they instinctively bite.

When Glen tried to lift the paw, Dodger bit Glen’s hand. Dennis thought Dodger might be calmer with him, so he tried next but he got even worse bites in his hand and arm. Finally, Glen found a cardboard box and partially smothered Dodger in it while Dennis dislodged the paw.

As soon as he was free, Dodger started leaping in joy, wagging his tail, wanting to play. He was oblivious to the men’s dripping blood, to the gashes and punctures left by his teeth, to their pain and their need for immediate first aid.

His attack was not personal.

He did not understand what he was doing when he did it. And he was incapable of empathy – of putting himself in their place and realizing their need or recognizing their pain afterwards.

The men did not take Dodger’s attack personally either. They understood his doggie nature.

They knew that he had reacted instinctively, out of pain and panic.

And they also realized that now, he was reacting instinctively again, out of relief. So they forgave him and moved on with their lives in a matter of fact way, attending to their wounds and visiting a doctor for proper care.

I remembered Dodger’s story recently when a friend was struggling.

My friend’s teenage son had a rebellious girlfriend. Whenever my friend refused to give her son permission for something the girl wanted him to do, the girl threw a temper tantrum and accused my friend of being mean and telling lies.

I knew the girl was trapped in an abusive situation at home, so I told my friend Dodger’s story, then said “You have to do what is right for your son, but try not to take his girlfriend’s reactions personally…she is in so much pain, she doesn’t know what she is doing.”

This was Jesus’ attitude.

When he was tortured and stripped and hung on a cross to die, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

To us, it looks different. People were cruel to Jesus, deliberately cruel. Yet He seemed to be saying that even so, at some critical level, the people killing him did not in fact realize what they were doing. They were blind to the spiritual realm and the great, cosmic picture. They were reacting instinctively, caught up in the moment.

When we struggle to forgive, it helps to remember Christ’s attitude.

We need to forgive the Dodgers in our lives. They don’t know what they are doing. Yet, anytime we need to forgive a Dodger, we also need to ask, “Have I been a Dodger myself? Have I reacted in a way that hurt someone?”

Whenever we hurt someone because we were sick or scared or angry, we think people should just understand and let it go. But we are made in the image of God. We are capable of behaving, with God’s help, better than a Dodger. We need to recognize and acknowledge the pain we cause other people

We need to apologize. We need to make amends. We need to be forgiven.

And that brings us full circle: If we want to be forgiven, we need to forgive…If we’re struggling to forgive, we must remind ourselves what we need forgiveness for ourselves.

When I read my granddaughter Laura this story, she suggested I end it with this prayer:

“Lord, help me today to see when I’ve hurt someone and need forgiveness. And help me to recognize when people hurt me but it’s not personal – they are reacting to circumstances, not to me. And help me to be willing to help people even when they are acting like Dodger. Amen.”

©Becky Cerling Powers 2019 Reprint with attribution only: www.beckypowers.com

Becky Cerling Powers is the author of the nonfiction narrative, Laura’s Children: the hidden story of a Chinese orphanage and a parenting guide, Sticky Fingers, Sticky Minds: quick reads for helping kids thrive. She blogs at www.beckypowers.com

“Dog in Pain” is part of a collection of stories describing and explaining the use of the spiritual weapons that the apostle Paul listed in Ephesians 6:10-20. This story describes using the helmet of salvation – that is, thinking with the mind of Christ. To find other stories in the blog series, enter “reflections on spiritual warfare” into the Search Bar.

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