Last Saturday was going to be great. No band practice for the kids. No meetings or work for me. I was going to sleep in. There was a kink in that plan, however. Our dog, Molly, was out in the yard. That in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but Molly tends to be, how should I say it, a bit obsessive. She chases and barks at anything that comes through our yard, even if it is a bird flying through her air space!
I’m sure you all know what is coming, but just to elaborate, about six a.m. Molly started barking, not just an off-and-on bark every time a bird went by, but an obsessed, urgent barking, kind of like Lassie running home to let everyone one know that Timmy, once again, had fallen into a well or mine or something and couldn’t get out.
My daughter, really upset that she was missing her sleep, was the first one to head out into the yard to quiet Molly down. That did not work. It was now up to me.
Armed with only my sandals and still wearing my pajamas, I headed out the door and through the backyard to the fence where Molly continued her frenzy behind the big pine tree. Back and forth across the yard she ran, stopping only to look up and bark her fool head off and then start running again.
Our little Molly can be the sweetest dog, but when she gets like this, there is very little that can stop her. I tried most everything to get her to calm down, including promising treats, shaking my keys (which means “going on a little trip in the car”), and bringing out her leash (which means “we’re going on a walk!), but nothing recaptured her attention.
After investigating, I found that there, behind the big pine tree and beyond the back fence, in the neighbor’s wild tree, sat a big, old possum. It was probably the one who eats my other neighbor’s cat food every night. As long as that critter was up in that tree, there was no way Molly was settling down. Finally, after about an hour of trying to calm Molly or get that critter to scoot, I gave up and tried to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, I had been behind that pine tree a little too long already. When I woke up, I realized that my legs were covered with bites. At last count there were about 25. So much for resting!
The crazy part of this whole scenario is that Molly could never reach that possum. Not only was it up in the tree, but the tree was on the other side of the fence. Even if it climbed down the tree to get away, Molly couldn’t reach it, no matter how hard she tried. But they both held their ground shaking on one side of the fence, and barking incessantly on the other side.
As I pondered the whole crazy scenario, I began to see my own reactions in life, sometimes obsessing over any situation that dares to get my attention, and other times just sitting and hiding, afraid of something that could not touch me at all. Hmm. That would make a good article!
Obsession—not the clinical diagnosis, mind you, but just simple tunnel vision, when you get something in your “craw” and just can’t drop it, at some time or another we all get this malady. It could be a neighbor’s lack of lawn grooming, or your spouse’s tendency toward sloppiness, or even one of your own issues. Whatever the situation, we find ourselves running around in circles, back and forth, “barking” at the situation that needs to be fixed. The only problem: We have absolutely no control over it. In fact, the more we obsess, the more frustrated we become.
The religious leaders had this kind of obsession. When Jesus started preaching throughout Israel, he was just another itinerant preacher. But when the people started following him and calling him names like, Messiah, God’s Son, etc., something had to be done. The gospels repeatedly tell stories of men being sent to Jesus to ask him questions, trying to set him up, but each time Jesus answered their questions and walked away looking much more like “The” teacher, and the religious leaders looked more foolish. Why even Pilate recognized this obsession when he declared, “I find no fault in this man.” But by that point, the frenzied obsession was unstoppable. They would settle for nothing less that Jesus’ death on a cross.
Obsession does a few things to us. First, we lose perspective. Now, Molly couldn’t reach that possum no matter how high she jumped. And even if she did reach it, the wild thing probably would have torn her to shreds. Likewise, when we obsess over a problem or person, we begin to make decisions that aren’t always the best.
The problem with this behavior is the lack of, or should I say the narrow focus that shuts out the rest of the world. It is this very narrow focus that leads some to foolish decisions such as
- Spending all their money to get that one collectible.
- Playing that lottery constantly to get that one big jackpot.
- Doing everything you can to undermine or get even with that co-worker, neighbor, relative, or spouse.
- Finally facing defeat and considering drastic measures, such as suicide.
When we obsess about a situation, we become like that crazy dog in my backyard, placing the problem above all else, even our relationship with God. When we pray, if we even do, we find ourselves praying about the “situation” and what we want God to do about it. No asking for wisdom, no admission of needing help, just insisting how God should fix it for us, barking off commands to God as we run around without a balance or common sense.
Then there is the other side. We find ourselves like the possum in the tree, shaking in fear because of the attacks facing us. I know we all can identify with this one. Whether it is the fear of the unknown or the known, we become paralyzed by our fears and, once again, lose perspective and the ability to think clearly through the situation. We cower as we listen to the loud, but harmless, barking of the problem, as it taunts us, never realizing that it cannot touch us, and cannot change a thing.
What is your fear today? Is it finances, a habit you cannot overcome, or even a religious obsession that keeps you from living your life as God intends? This kind of fear is the same one that causes young women to become anorexic or bulimic, as they struggle with the fear of being inadequate. They, once again, lose perspective and turn in against themselves, not seeing the way of escape made for them.
Paul states, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13). When we take our eyes off of our problems, wishes, or frustrations, and place them where they should be, on the One who keeps us and protects us, the problems seem smaller somehow, and we find the capacity to reason through the situation and find that way of escape promised in the Scripture.
So, whether you are the barking, frenzied dog, obsessing over something out of your control, something that you cannot fix, or the frightened, shaking possum up in the tree, so afraid that you cannot recognize the limitations of the bully chasing you, I want you to stop, take a deep breath, say a short prayer, something like: “Okay, God. I’ve been living in tunnel vision without the ability to look around and put all of this into perspective. Help me open my eyes and see what is really happening here. Give me clarity, but most of all, give me grace to look to you.”
Life in between the extremes, may it be so!
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church