I found him hiding in my closet under a row of dresses. I couldn’t see where he’d gone while I was cleaning up after him. It was hardly a mess but still not something you ignore. When he saw me he laid down sheepishly. He was embarrassed. I sat down next to him and carefully put him in my lap to reassure him.
“Buddy its okay. Mama’s not mad. You can’t help it honey.”
I was fighting back tears. It had been such a rough week with the dog. A surgery he needed for his long- term comfort had turned into a short-term nightmare of complications. One mistake by the vet tech had turned a 2-3 day recovery into a three week long all hands on deck effort.
It’s been hard to see him suffer physically but the emotional trauma has been harder. I could understand why Buddy was hiding after an accident in the house but when he had one in his bed and I tried to clean up after him he bit me. For a dog that considers his life’s work protecting me this was out of character. I had to talk to the vet about it.
“He’s embarrassed,” she said. “He would rather hide his mistake than risk your disapproval. He doesn’t understand what’s causing the problem he only sees the problem and he’s ashamed. When he hides from you he’s punishing himself.”
My heart ached with this explanation. It made sense. Even though I was doing everything I could to ease his mind he felt like he was disappointing me. It started as soon as I picked him up post-op when he couldn’t walk. I didn’t mind carrying him but he didn’t know that. From then on everything felt like a colossal failure to him.
Finally by day six of the whole ordeal I made myself go for a prayer walk. Buddy started crying when he realized I was leaving without him. Luke agreed to keep an eye on him while I was gone. On my walk I thought about the shame for him. Where does that come from with a dog?
With people I know that shame is sense of badness about oneself. It’s the painful feeling that arises from our conscience when we think we’ve done something dishonorable. Often that pain is the result of believing we’ve lost the respect of others. Our discomfort can range from mild to excruciating.
In Buddy’s case the blow to his self-esteem was awful but why is it that a dog needs to have my respect? I wanted to understand this to help him. I was asking for some kind of insight when I found a penny hiding under a truck. Still confused I picked it up and whispered, “I trust you God,” and then it hit me.
To Buddy I’m “God”. I’m the one who makes all things good or bad happen. I provide everything he needs from food, water, and shelter to love and attention. As a result he feels a responsibility for pleasing me. Ask anyone in the house and they will tell you that Buddy is a “Mama’s Dog”.
This newfound insight prompted me to consider what God does with us when we feel ashamed. My own experience is that when I fall in the pit of self-loathing God will come and sit with me. It might take me a while to realize He’s there but if I can be still and listen I will hear an encouraging word—some sort of gentle reminder that I’m still His beloved child. I cannot lose His unconditional love. I might lose the world’s approval but never His.
With this in mind when I got home I went upstairs where Buddy was still in the closet. I took a little blanket and lay down next to him. He wiggled a little closer and I petted him until his crying stopped. Exhausted we both dozed off. When I woke he finally seemed at peace nestled up against me. I left and by the time I got to the stairs just a few feet away he was on my tail—right where he always is to follow me around.
I was reminded that God wants us right on his tail too creating a shadow of love and acceptance to shelter people from the harsh weather of this world. Disapproval barks at all of us from someplace. It’s easy to feel humiliated about any mess we make. Shame is as debilitating as its counterpart—pride. This is why it’s up to God’s children not to let life go to the dogs. We have to find ways to help people come out of their closets not shut the door on them. It’s only out in the open with our struggles that we can live in the light of God’s love.