I was sitting on my back porch when I distinctly heard our dog, Raleigh’s bark—off in the distance, way outside the fence. I hopped up and ran around (where people can see me) in my super puffy robe because it’s freezing (yet I insist on being outside because it’s fantastic). Anyway, I ran out in my stay-puff-marshmallow-man attire because I love this dog more than is probably healthy for a human. He ran right to me and back into the fence when I called because he is perfect. I looked around for his escape route, but I didn’t see anything obvious. He settled into chewing on a stick while I finished my quiet time.
Later that day, my sweet neighbor called. She was out with her dog and saw Raleigh loose again, running across the street. She got him back in the fence through the rarely used gate on her side of my house, which had somehow been left open. The best any of us can figure is that someone who wasn’t invited into our space opened our gate and left it….
This morning, after making his rounds in the yard, I noticed Raleigh was drawn back to that gate. It is now closed, but he was messing with it, pawing at it, trying to figure out what magic had given him unprecedented freedom the day before. A boundary we have in place to offer him safe privileges had been breached, and he was drawn back to the spot where his respect for those limits had weakened.
Here’s the thing. Raleigh is a golden retriever, a breed that naturally isn’t prone to run away. He is eager to be with us. My son, Asher, has worked hard to train him to be off-leash. When we are with Raleigh, armed with an understanding of how to navigate dangers, we allow him to walk on a verbal leash. The more he respects our commands, the more freedom we grant him. Yet even with all of the goodness in him and the freedom we stretch when he is ready, Raleigh was drawn back to the spot where he found that he could disregard healthy boundaries.
Even though we are the creation that has advanced reasoning skills and a spiritual connection with God, aren’t we similar? Prone to wander back to the place where the enemy has snuck in, found a weak spot in our healthy limits, and opened up a temptation inviting us to run “free”? He always neglects to mention that there are dangers beyond that we are not equipped to understand or stand against alone: Dangers that we should only face when our Father is there with us, giving verbal commands and directions.
We have to shut the gate. We need people who love us and watch our back as Ms. Gail did for Raleigh. People who will speak up and let us know when we have a breach in our territory. People who see it and are willing to intervene because they care for us. If we are receptive to that help, we can fortify our healthy freedom and even add a lock if needed to keep that boundary secure.
But here’s the thing, once we see what’s beyond healthy boundaries, our mind will continue to pull our longings back to these newly discovered options. Spiritually, when we cross boundaries into temptation, into sin, our minds will draw us back relentlessly. That’s why so many people fall into the same sin patterns over and over. The weapon that starts the process of shutting the gate is confession, bringing your sin back to Jesus and telling Him you’re sorry.
Listen to this shocking scripture from Jesus in Matthew 12:43-45
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
I think if we’re honest, each of us has seen this in action, though we maybe haven’t recognized the spiritual process that was happening. We sin, we feel bad. We stop. We may confess it. We declare we are getting our life right and not going down that path again. We work hard to get it cleaned. Then we feel like we’re done.
According to scripture, this leaves us more vulnerable than we ever imagined—nice clean, empty space longing for something to fill it. Temptation comes back seven times stronger than it left. And we are defenseless unless we have done more than clean out the sin. We have to fill that nice, neat space with Godly things. That’s how we genuinely lock the gate; by taking our thoughts captive, filling our minds with truth, with God’s word, with worship, with new friends, new activities, accountability. We have to do more than stop bad behavior. We have to set our mind to add the right actions in its place.
I, like Raleigh have found that life with a good Father is actually amazing. It is the great adventure. It is fun and comforting and peaceful. Thank You, Jesus, that You will help us every step of the way. Thank You that You have taught us how to be overcomers.