Last week, I was fortunate to be a participant in Abilene Christian University’s Conference on Peace. I was able to share some things I have learned about peacemaking and heard several stories from some people doing great things to bring peace in the world. One of the things I shared was one of the many lessons I learn from my dog, Gus.
One of the truths about peace is that it comes through conflict. Big surprise, right? As I listened to stories about conflict, I was struck by how it affects relationships. And this is where my story about Gus came into the mix and generated several comments afterwards.
Gus is a great dog, friendly and sweet. He’s is easy to love and pet. He’s also a puppy, prone to tear up, chew up and dig up. He gets in trouble and gets in trouble now and again. Yet one thing is consistent with Gus. He is always ready to roll over and let you pet his tummy. When Gus does this, he is very vulnerable. He could easily be trapped, struck, stepped on or held down and yet he does it over and over.
Gus and I have a good relationship. I generally talk nicely to him and pet him a fair amount. I also ignore him at times, pressing on to what is important in my world. There are times I give him a harsh word for getting in my way. And there are times he gets a spanking because he has done something I don’t like. My relationship with Gus sounds like a lot of relationships I have been in but there is a difference in Gus and me. Gus continues to roll over and be vulnerable hoping to get petted. I have learned to hide my vulnerability. Gus is willing to risk the pain of being ignored or hurt. Me, not so much. I am so afraid of the pain that I will miss the joy of being petted.
I have had my fair share of conflict in relationships and the pain that comes with it; pain that has been heaped on me and pain that I have caused others. Gus sees people with the hope of being petted and I see people with the fear of pain. Gus is willing to throw himself out there, I withdraw. Gus looks for good things to happen, I calculate how much damage may occur.
This is what conflict does to people and how past conflict shapes the future. Some people get through the conflict and move into a state of peace and are willing to be vulnerable again. Others go through conflict and begin to see every step of the future as more conflict. And relationships suffer. Or never get off the ground.
I hope I will move to a place in my life where I am more like a dog, hoping and trusting that putting myself out there to get petted will get me petted more and not getting trapped in what happens when it doesn’t work out. I hope I will choose to be more vulnerable. There are conversations I want to have that I am afraid to start right now. There are relationships I would like explore but I am afraid to risk the fear of failure right now.
I hope the day comes when I can enjoy relationships the way Gus does: full of hope, willing to be vulnerable and always open to try again.
Grace and peace.