October 5, 2015

Lessons from My Dog: Letting Go

Sometimes my dog barks.

I know, this is not unusual, but I wish he wouldn’t. We have neighbors. Sometimes he startles me. But he’s a dog so he barks.

In fact, he does all sorts of things I wish he wouldn’t. He growls at other dogs, licks things, sniffs garbage.

My wife and I are working on training him a little better so he barks a little less and plays better with strangers, but there are limits to what we can do. Ultimately, we have to let him lick and bark and be a dog.

This is a lesson I’ve gradually been learning in my life and work: to let other people be themselves. Sometimes people in my life behave differently than I’d like. My coworkers go on tangents during meetings, for example, or my wife might confront someone when I might just let it go. I can make my preferences clear, we can talk and make sure we’re generally on the same page, but ultimately I can’t control other people and I shouldn’t try.

Not that I’m a controlling person, actually. But sometimes when people do things that I wouldn’t—maybe they talk a little loud or say things I wouldn’t—it makes me anxious or grumpy.

This is part of living with other human beings (or animals, in the case of my dog). We all see the world slightly differently and therefore have slightly different ideas about the best way to speak or act. In the end, once I can let some of my own anxieties go, I learn from other people. My life is better and I am made wiser because it is full of people unlike me.

In the case of these differences, which are ultimately small, I am happier when I worry only about our own behavior and responsibilities. I do have some responsibility to train my dog. Likewise in my community, I have to act and speak with love toward others, and when others talk too much during church or come in late, I’ve just got to remember that they have their own lives and histories and personalities.

It’s living with that diversity that ultimately enriches our lives and shows us the many facets of God. I just have to let go a little, take a breath, and let others be themselves.

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