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My dog Blueberry has cost me a lot of money in the last few months. We’ve been in dog obedience school. And, boy, do I mean we. We’re now on our second dog trainer. Our first dog trainer was very disciplined. He could flatten his hand in a downward motion, and his dog would lay down one hundred yards away. Blueberry . . . not so much. She and I both have a hard time remembering which command goes with which hand motion and what it’s all supposed to mean.
I tell her, “Down,” and she tries to shake. I tell her to sit, and she puts her front paws on my shoulders to try to hug me. It’s all very confusing. But there’s one command that has been particularly mysterious to both of us, especially as I’ve written this chapter.
The first trainer told me that after Blueberry has been “in a down” or “in a sit” for a given period of time, I’m supposed to say, “Free.” When I first said it, Blueberry just looked at me. She tilted her head in a “what in the world does that mean” kind of way. I didn’t know either. We both just shrugged.
Now she’s getting the hang of it. I think she’s partly getting the hang of it because of our new trainer. She is more of a positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement type of trainer. She took away the “obedience” collar Blueberry wore and replaced it with treats.
One trip from Nashville to Kentucky in the car necessitates an entire bag of treats. I think, though, it’s helped Blueberry feel more loved. And more secure. And it’s given her more confidence in what free truly means. When I say, “Free,” Blueberry now knows that she can run and play, or find her ball, or give me a hug, or whatever she wants to do. She is free because she’s loved and secure and no longer afraid of punishment.
I think I’m a lot like Blueberry. When I first started thinking about freedom in parenting, I was perplexed. Free? What does that mean in terms of parenting? I mentioned in a speech recently that instead of focusing on being the parent God’s called you to be, you can focus on being the parent God frees you to be. It sounds good. But I really wasn’t even sure what I meant at the time.
After studying this idea of freedom, I think I know a lot more now. And that’s basically that I’m free. Like Blueberry, I’m free to love and laugh and dance and teach and counsel and write, because I’m loved. I’m also free to discipline. You are too, as a parent. But so often we live with the confusion that Blueberry and I did. We turn our heads, shrug our shoulders, and stay in the sit position for entirely too long.
Let me give another example, and one that involves a human child rather than a furry one. You need a little background first, though. I attend an Anglican church. It’s one of the more progressive Anglican churches where they intersperse hymns with worship choruses. Church members are very engaged in the service, although there isn’t a ton of outward expression. Suffice it to say most people are not waving flags and dancing in the aisles. Most. So on this particular day, I was sitting in my pew toward the back of the church. It was the last song of the service, which usually is a rousing, anthemic song, such as “In Christ Alone” or “Mighty to Save.”
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