Something I noticed when I walk my dogs on the trail. I don’t put Grover on a leash because he won’t stray too far. He might catch a whiff of a scent to explore, but he always catches up and follows me. Garth is on a leash because he has a tendency to do his own thing. He wouldn’t go too far, but he definitely needs some extra prodding in the direction we are going. I brought Grover home to Chicago a couple of years ago and in the beginning, the two dogs didn’t interact all that much. Now, they both have adopted habits of the other. When we are walking, if Grover explores a smell, Garth wants to as well. Between the two of them, I get frustrated because it seems like we are sniffing more than we are walking. Grover is able to roam as he pleases. Garth, however, is a bit more restricted, but he still wants the ability Grover has and believing he has it by way of the “if you can do it, I can do it” mindset, attempts to act on it. Depending on how lenient I am, Garth may or may not be successful. He also may consider it unfair he is leashed while Grover is not. What he may not realize is Grover has a more developed sense of attachment and desire to please. Obedience comes before distractions, most of the time, that is. Other dogs, other people, squirrels on the trail do not deter him from the path we are walking. Garth, in contrast, is lured away by these things.
It seems to me that the Law acts somewhat in this way for us. We can perceive it as ultra-restricting, and honestly, we can make it so. This is called perfectionism and pharisaism. Empty of faith and mercy. However, it also acts to keep us on the path of the Lord. Our nature as human beings leaves us with both a great capacity to stray and a greater capacity to stay attached and devoted to the One we walk with, who desires to walk with us always. Thus, the Law is good. It leads us to something greater and keeps us from harm. There is a significant level of awareness in knowing how tightly we should be leashed to the Law in certain areas of our lives. Not only this, but it is also in constant fluctuation depending on the season of life we are in. For example, I have an ongoing relationship with country music. In moments I am feeling especially lonely or heartsick, I often want to sink into the heart break lyrics and let Kane Brown serenade me with his deep, soothing voice. However, this often leaves me deeper in my despair. Country music is a huge joy for me, but I have a responsibility to use it as just this, a joy, not a cure. I have to put boundaries on my relationship with it and not let it become misplaced. The cure is Jesus. This is His role. He and only He heals my brokenness; He and only He provides an embrace and rest to my weary soul. I have to tighten my leash to Him in these times when the lure of country music sounds sweeter to my ears than the Word and yoke of the Lord. Check this because it is key- I, myself, tighten the leash. I am self-aware enough to realize my weakness and real enough with myself to know I am not self-sufficient; I need Jesus to remind me I am not alone. Still, does this mean I never run to country music? Most definitely not.
As my devotion and attachment to walking with the Lord becomes deeper and more widespread within me, and as I remember the taste of “something greater”, I can begin to loosen and possibly let go of the leash. I am not free to disobey the Law but free to let my cultivated desire for obedience keep me on the path rather than holding the leash. This idea applies to not only me but those around me. Garth becomes jealous seeing Grover smell as he pleases. Grover becomes a stumbling block for Garth, igniting possible resentment and bitterness. Does this mean Grover cannot enjoy the freedom of devotion and attachment? I don’t think so. Rather I think it means, again, a responsibility and awareness. If I am with someone who is working on staying sober, I am not going to get a drink. If I am around someone trying not to curse, I am not going to curse. I want to assist them and walk with them, not be something they stumble over. This is not loving my neighbor.
For me, staying tightly leashed is safer. Holding fast to perfectionism and the Law keeps me from discovering the full depths of my humanity. I would rather give up freedom to explore and be wildly loving than risk failing or messing up or finding out I am not good enough. Not knowing the great mercy, I am in need of, however, is first a poisonous delusion of superiority and second a theft of mercy from others. If I do not love my whole self with all my flaws and imperfections, how will I love others this way? I will not be able; I will instead count their flaws as unlovable and inferior. I have to experience my desperation, not use the Law as a hiding place. Not cling to it to achieve an outward appearance of perfection, while simultaneously judging those “lesser” me. The Law is not meant to keep us from living and failing. I want Garth to experience the fullness of the walk, but more importantly, keep him close to me, walking with me. We use it (the Law, the leash) as a bit or rudder, and arrow pointing to something greater, the fulfillment of the Law Himself, Jesus. As our devotion to Jesus waxes, the lure of distractions wanes, and the Law assists more as a bumper and less so as a leash.
Don’t let me fool you. I have been holding onto the leash too tightly in fear of finding out what surfaces when I stray. Perfectionism inhibits living with interior freedom. It leaves me void of love and full of pride and envy. Loving, failing, repenting, forgiving and walking with the Lord is living. I am the foremost in need of this reminder.