dog_bellyrub_croppedMy dog, Zack*, and I are a lot alike.

I was going about my regular routine this morning, getting ready for work, and Zack jumps up on the bed to get cozy while he watches me. Somewhere in the middle of what I was doing, I stop and look at him, so devotedly following me with his eyes. I sit down next to him to pet him, and he rolls over onto his back so I can rub his belly.

Some dogs will just plop down, roll over onto their backs, and wiggle around enthusiastically, reveling in the pleasure. My colleague Jerry tells me about his dogs, golden retrievers, who roll over so excitedly just when he approaches them, that sometimes they’ll lose control and even wet themselves. And he can’t even get them to sit up; they just go limp like rag dolls. They’ve completely given in to the joy of it. But not Zack. He has his head cocked so he can watch me. And I can see in his eyes that he is being cautious, a bit reluctant, not totally comfortable, as if he doesn’t entirely trust me. We’ve had Zack since he was a puppy, and he’s never been abused, never had his trust violated. I don’t even rough-house with him too much since he’s such a sensitive soul (with me, anyway). Of course with two other dogs in the house, he always has to be a little wary. Clarice will bulldoze him around; she’s a klutz and often temperamental. Rascal is always wanting to play, and is not above just pouncing on him for sport. And when they’re tired or hungry, they can get on each others’ nerves and snip at each other. So perhaps Zack’s wariness is justified. But with him being a little uptight, I could tell he wasn’t enjoying the experience as much as he could be.

As I pet his stomach, I was struck by the inconsistency in his behavior: partly open, partly vulnerable, partly submissive, wanting affection — but only partly. Never fully surrendering to it totally. And as I look in his eyes, I can almost catch a glimmer of his thoughts: he’s worried over appearing undignified.

“Isn’t this exactly how I behave with God?” The question popped into my mind. We’re supposed to come boldly before his throne, we’re supposed to bare our hearts to him, to come spiritually naked, open and vulnerable, expecting only a warm welcome, trusting in his loving embrace. But instead, we — I — often come to him still wearing armor, surrendering to his powerful presence only partially, still holding back, perhaps anticipating some hostility or unexpected roughness. And is there a hint of pride, too? Somewhere in the back of my head, do I feel that joyfully bounding into his throne room like a beloved child is a bit undignified? Will I look or feel foolish?

Worse, though, how is my guardedness preventing me from just enjoying God’s presence? How is it hindering me walking away feeling refreshed or receiving the answers I need for the day? I know many times I end my quiet time with God feeling just as frustrated or cranky as when I began it.

Zack loves me. He derives a great deal of security from being around me, and I really enjoy having him around. And despite any minor misgivings he might have, he’s safe with me, and I’ll always be receptive to his wants and needs. Is God any less devoted to me than I am to my dog? Has he ever rebuffed me or rebuked me harshly to warrant my cautious approach? Or am I still carrying defensive shields from the friction of coarse treatment inflicted by other people who intersect my life?

I need to change my behavior, my attitude. I need to deliberately lower my guard when I greet God in the morning and invite him into my day. And not just because that’s what trusting children (and dogs) do. But because I NEED the benefit of his presence. I NEED to have my mind and heart restored by his peace, re-energized by his joy. I NEED to walk away from my time in prayer with the strength and confidence to face the chaos that awaits me today. And, if I ever expect to grow, I need to uncover every corner of my heart before him, so he’ll have free access to change the things he wants changed. I just can’t afford to have my connection with God hindered in any way.

So when I approach God tomorrow to spend some uninterrupted, quality time with him, I gonna try to deliberately throw down my guard, and recklessly throw myself into his presence, stripped of any caution, reluctance, or concern for dignity. I want to let go of my uptightness, silence those ungrounded fears and worries in my head, and expose my vulnerability to God’s loving hands. I think only then will I be in a position to receive his affection unimpeded and to fully derive a sense of security from his love. Only then will I fully enjoy the experience.  I just need to shut up and roll over.  And who knows how that will affect the rest of my day?

* Dogs’ names have been changed to protect the innocent.