The Snarling Dog: Loving the Hard to Love

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a video of a live performance from a band I really like. (It was NEEDTOBREATHE if you really want to know.) I rocked out to the video and when it was over, I scrolled down to see what other videos Facebook had for me. The next video was of a poor, abused dog being washed and groomed at an animal rescue facility. Watching that video did something to me. It didn’t convince me to run out and adopt a dog. I’ve already done that. No, watching that angry, snarling dog reoriented how I think about hard-to-love people.

We need reminders.

I’ve written about reminders many times for Rambling Ever On. Most of the stuff I write about, the serious stuff, is not groundbreaking. I’m not a theologian, a minister, or anything on that level. I’m just a guy who likes to write when inspiration strikes. So, more often than not, I’m going to focus on the “meat and potatoes” sort of stuff. The basics. But, if you are anything like me, you need to be reminded of the basics from time to time.

Additionally, when I write about important stuff, my primary audience is me. In no way do I feel I have any special wisdom to share. When I write about pride, I do so because I’ve been struggling, studying, and hopefully growing in my fight against that dangerous sin. When I write about the overwhelming state of the world, it’s my overwhelmed spirit I am speaking to. So, I hope what I write will help others, but just know that I am not attacking or condemning anyone for these struggles.

Broken people break things.

As I watched that angry dog snap at the groomer, a million thoughts rushed through my brain. I didn’t see a dog anymore. I saw an angry and bitter cashier at my local grocery store. Or, the reckless driver who cut me off in traffic who then proceed to flip me off. Or the frustrated and jaded coworker. I could see everyone at that moment; all of us responding with anger and aggression because of whatever scars and wounds we carry with us. Broken people break things. 

The dog didn’t get to that point without some long and painful history of abuse and neglect. How more true is that for us? We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been neglected, rejected, attacked, and abused in some way. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not overlooking our sinful natures and how every single one of us chooses evil over good. Romans 3:23 doesn’t let any of us off the hook. No, we are all sinners and we all choose to sin. With that said, it doesn’t really matter what brought that angry, spiteful person to that specific place in their life. Our response is not predicated on how they got there. It’s predicated on how we got there. “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” When we were at our most unlovable, God loved us. Once we accept that gift of love and grace, it is our responsibility to share it.

Loving the hard to love.

In the video, the groomer is almost superhuman in their patience. They gently and carefully pet the dog until the creature finally begins to calm. It’s clearly not a one-time thing as even after they have the dog subdued and have been washing it for a few minutes, the dog still tries to snap at their hand. But that doesn’t dissuade the groomer. They go back to their gentle and careful approach. Eventually, the dog fully calms down and allows itself to be cared for.

Our interactions with broken people won’t always have happy endings like this. In fact, they rarely will even have endings. Our paths might only cross once – in a store, on the street, at an event. As children of light, we need to view each of those interactions as opportunities for grace, mercy, and love to win the day. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

More than just polite

I’m convinced that my response to the snarling ones needs to be more than just polite. Anyone can be polite. Christians should be more than that, right? Not responding in anger is not enough; it should be the baseline response. We should go beyond that when confronted with anger and hate. Our response to all that rage and brokenness should be “soft” and gentle. We should respond in a way that will turn away their anger and wrath, not add to it.

Romans 12 adds this, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That doesn’t sound passive to me. It takes action on our part. How that looks will be unique to the situation. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Be gentle as doves but wise as serpents. We are salt and light to a lost and dying world. We are the Kingdom of God, pointing the way to the Savior of the world. Our gentle and careful response to that snarling person could be the first act of love they have received in weeks or months. It could be the first thawing of the ice to their hearts. Oh, I pray that I don’t waste those opportunities anymore. I’ve wasted too many as it is.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

See. You know this already. It’s nothing new. And yes, this was aimed directly at me but maybe others will find something worthwhile. How we respond to angry and wrathful people could change the course of their lives. It could be the first glimmer of the Gospel they will ever see. Let us not take that for granted.

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Phill Lytle

I love: Jesus, my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my church, Firefly, 80s rock, Stranger Things, the Tennessee Titans, the St. Louis Cardinals, Brandon Sanderson books, Band of Brothers, Thai food, music, books, movies, TV, writing, Arrested Development, pizza, vacation, etc...

One thought on “The Snarling Dog: Loving the Hard to Love

  • September 17, 2021 at 3:28 pm
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    Thanks, Phill. I really enjoyed this article. All so true, especially the part about our interactions with broken people not always having a happy ending, or even an ending at all. Excellent counsel here, in a very practical article.

    Reply

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