Barking At Wolves

Image by Shawn Kinkade CC BY –ND 4.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/wsk/

Image by Shawn Kinkade CC BY –ND 4.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/wsk/

I lay shivering in bed, frozen against the wall under the sloping eaves. The darkness haunted me as menacing shadows danced in the window, backlit through the white-sheet ruffled curtains and the pull-down shade.

Wolves, there were wolves there. I could hear them, sense them, feel them slinking across the floor to my bed. They hid there, daring my feet to dangle where razor-sharp teeth could snap. I pulled my toes further under the thin blanket, too scared to scream for Daddy. When my breath finally returned, I was as voiceless as in a dream. I waited an eternity until sleep smothered the fear.

Mommy was no help. She frowned her impatient morning-frown as she cracked eggs sharply and dropped them in the frying pan. Her eyes scolded me while her voice told me the wolves did not exist. Her words made me doubt myself, but my fears didn’t listen to logic. I shoved the questions down and waited. Perhaps Daddy would help in the evening?

I waited until he came home late and changed after work. Then he was in my room. I gulped. He wouldn’t believe me either, would he? His eyes were kind, though, and I tried my voice, surprised when this time there were sounds to go with my fears. I felt silly when I heard my own words. “I don’t want to go to bed. There are wolves under the bed! There are! They were there last night. I heard them, and I saw them in the window!”

“Wolves?” His blue eyes widened as he looked from the window to the bed with the green ruffled bedspread. “Wolves?” he repeated, as I nodded tentatively, feeling sheepish and even younger than my little girl age. I looked down at my toes, afraid of what he’d say.

“Well, we’ll have to get rid of them!” Then, suddenly, he was down on his hands and knees. Barking. Under the bed. At the wolves. Barking, until every last one of the grey monsters disappeared, vanished, slinking out the window and into the night.

“There,” he said as he rubbed his hands together with a satisfied grin. “We took care of THEM!”

And suddenly, I could breathe again. Laughter started to bubble. We giggled, sputtered, and he grabbed me in a hug, tucking me firmly into the bed. It wasn’t scary now, not with my Daddy there.

He understood. He chased the wolves away. He believed me.

I didn’t know Jesus then, I was too little and my Daddy didn’t know how to introduce us. But I learned something then that I know about Jesus now: He takes me seriously. He listens to my fears and my hurts, even if they don’t make sense in an adult world. He listens first, without telling me what I “should” feel, or why my fears are wrong.

And then he barks, and the wolves go away. Schedule wolves. Relationship wolves. Evaluating wolves. Deadline wolves. Money wolves. Worry wolves. Despair wolves. Shame wolves (especially shame wolves, my most vicious wolves of all).

Did you catch that? He listens first. He believes me. And then he barks at the wolves, so I can sleep.

What wolves did He scare for you today?

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Relational Circuits and Pharisees

irises stock photo for refresh blogThe Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

“OK, thank you,” I chirp tersely in my leave-me-alone-can’t-you-see-I’m-working voice. Five seconds later, I realize what I did…no, what I AM doing. I have no idea what my husband said, what he wanted, what he’s feeling, or even if he smiled or frowned.  Nor did I care.

That’s not the first time I preemptively stopped conversation, empathy and connection with someone I loved in the last 24 hours. Not that I’m cruel, or abusive, or even short-tempered. On the contrary, I’m cheerfully accomplishing more in one day than I usually do in a week. I’m also cold and distant, distinctly not synchronizing with anyone’s feelings ( not even my own!), and driven to accomplish my overwhelming to-do list. In short, my “relational circuits” are off.

Relational circuits? Yes: those emotional, social, and neurological pathways that keep us connected to God and others. “RCs” are the trails and corridors that let us value people, attune to them (and notice them attune with us), work with them well and function as a team. Relational circuits help us lead with sensitivity, respond with flexibility, and process pain when life triggers or traumatizes us. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that relational circuits are what enable us to perceive and cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is doing. I can’t really “do what the Father is doing” (John 5:19) if I can’t respond to the Holy Spirit, and if my RCs are off, I don’t really want to respond to anyone!

What about Jesus? Did He care about relational circuits? Certainly He never used those words, but it’s impossible to love someone well without empathy, attunement, sensitivity and care. When my relational circuits are off, I don’t care about people as people; I see them as problems to be solved or pieces to a puzzle, but certainly not as cherished sons and daughters of the Most High God.

The very people Jesus tussled with most were the Pharisees and my suspicion is that their relational circuits were definitely off almost all the time. The Pharisees were legalistic, judgmental, critical, evaluative, and consumed with external appearances. They valued rules over relationship and Jesus confronted them at every turn. That’s not a comforting thought as I bulldoze through my to-do list, shoving people, conversations and interactions off to the roadside.

How ironic. Here I sit, writing about relational circuits while my relational circuits are off. Huh. How to turn them back on?

Chuckling, I shake my head and notice the gorgeous irises my husband left on my desk before dinner. I did say thank you. At least that’s a start.

“Okay, Jesus, let’s begin again.” I breathe a quick prayer and think through the mental checklist of ways that work to reset my emotional temperature.

Appreciation. Appreciating God is probably the best route, but gratitude for anything is good, as long as I can really feel it.

Prayer.  It’s hard to be ornery if we’re really talking to God and being honest about what we feel. After all, he already knows how we feel. 

Empathy. Finding someone to be with you in your pain; someone who will understand, empathize and listen. 

Laughter. Real, genuine, kind and goodhearted humor (not the sarcastic kind) can help jump start our brains back to connection.

Singing. Singing worship or sacred music, especially in a group.  This may not work for everyone, but it certainly helps me focus on what’s good and true. Neurologically, singing together is a powerful relationship builder, both with God and others.

My RC light flickers on as I print the page. I’m smiling now, the real kind of smile, as I toss my inner Pharisee to the floor and walk upstairs to thank my husband for those lovely irises.

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