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Come Here (part one of three)

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Training a dog to come when called is a fairly easy command to teach. With some yummy treats and a few minutes a day, you’re dog will soon learn that the sound of your voice, the mention of their name along with the command to, “Come here,” is the best thing ever because of it’s many rewards. Rewards that may include a nice long walk, feasting on a delicious morsel, or perhaps some snuggle time on the couch. The goal is to convince your dog that being with you is always the best place to be!

But the beauty of this command and the relationship it creates is also one of the easiest to destroy and here’s why. Let’s say (hypothetically of course) that my dog just escaped my yard for the umpteenth time and is found in the neighbor’s backyard hunting down his favorite egg-laying chicken—again. I am furious because… my relationship with this neighbor is tentative at best, and how hard is it (for certain family members) to close a gate for heaven’s sake?! My peace-loving, vegan, urban-homesteading neighbor loves his Bantam hen, Penelope, as much as my chase-loving, carnivorous and hungry Cairn terrier, Dominique Decoco (for obviously different reasons). I swear my dog had been dreaming of getting her drooling jaws around Penelope's slender and oh-so-tempting neck thus ending a short but successful egg producing career. I must not let that happen!

So I call her, “Coco, come here!” which she promptly ignores as I see my neighbor out of the corner of my eye. He’s heard the commotion and has come barreling out of his backdoor wearing a murderous glare and brandishing a broom, or…oh my, is that a bat? (I guess his love for a chicken outweighs his love for peace, in this case) So I get louder and more emphatic until I’m shrieking, “Coco, come HERE!!!” Convinced this encounter is going to end in bloodshed of some kind, when my dog finally gives up the chase to heed my command and she comes to me, my reaction is anything but gentle or humble. Even though I'm relieved at the lives spared, I let her know, in no uncertain terms, how unhappy I am at her un-neighborly-like behavior.

Understandable? From a human perspective, absolutely. But from a dog’s perspective, this scenario is nothing short of confusing. A dog doesn’t understand that killing a small, clucking, egg-laying creature with delightful feathers (that fly about everywhere when running for it's life) is a relationship shattering no-no. As far as canines are concerned, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Something to be crossed of their bucket lists, right after: rolling gleefully in a rotting carcass. But the real confusion comes when a dog turns away from such a natural and engaging activity—to heed the command to “come here”—and upon completion of such a sacrificial act of obedience, there is a harsh scolding instead of a huge reward. If this happens on a regular basis, that dog will hear its name and the command to “come here,” and it will cower in fear or run the other way to avoid a possible punishment it doesn’t understand. The command is ruined and the trusting relationship between dog and master is compromised.

In order to instill and continually reinforce a solid recall, it’s vital to always reward a dog that comes when it’s called (no matter what it was just doing). Like the Father of the prodigal son—who came home repentant after squandering his inheritance on prostitutes—his Father welcomed him with celebrating and a feast of fattened calf. Instead of the angry scolding my dog received, I should have at least offered a sincere and affectionate, "good dog." Even better, I could have whipped out that spare calf I always carry around in my back pocket for such an occasion. Oh, well; next time.

I, too, can make the mistake of running the other way when I hear my Master call because I'm afraid of a harsh scolding. I continue to carry my heavy loads of worry, guilt, anger or selfishness to my detriment, leaving loss and carnage in my wake. But Jesus is not a hard and cruel taskmaster. He is humble and gentle in spirit. When I'm finally tired of dragging myself around; knees buckling under my heavy load, there's always another option. I can repent and turn away from those things that are on the no-no list and run home to my Father. When I do, the reality of these words are mine to experience. I always find the warm welcome of His forgiveness and the much-needed reward of rest for my soul. It may not be a fattened calf, but being next to my Master is always the best place to be. Besides, I'm trying to get more fiber in my diet anyway.

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