I got up early this morning to go for my run before the heat of the day set in. I love early morning runs because it makes the rest of my day feel free and wide open and productive. I took a route I haven’t taken in quite some time just to mix things up a bit. There is a 2-mile portion of slow incline allowing me to see very far into the distance on this particular loop. As I made the turn to begin the climb, I saw a man and his dog approaching. The dog was young and looked strong and muscular. I love dogs of all kinds, so it made me smile to see this one prancing along. I’m always looking for the sweet gifts that God has for me on my runs and honestly, they are frequently in the form of animals, plants, or skylines, so this dog had my attention and I could feel my face grinning from ear to ear as we approached each other. As they came more into focus, I could see that the dog was a Pitbull, and the man was carrying a bamboo pole; both details I thought nothing of in that moment. The dog’s owner stepped to the grass allowing the socially distant 6 feet for me to pass. I had my eyes locked on them because I intended to smile and thank him for his courtesy and let’s be real I was going to say hello to the dog too, and as I was just about to do so the man commanded his dog to follow him into the grass. Now, the young dog was clearly still being trained to obey his caregiver and he was far more interested in me than he was in listening. I giggled a little to myself because I remember those days of puppy training well; very similar to training my toddlers. My chuckle turned into an audible gasp as I watched the man strike his puppy hard with the bamboo stick as he simultaneously jerked the leash. The man’s face was angry as he reprimanded his dog for the disobedience indicating that the incident was more about irritation and control than a teachable moment. It took me a few strides to digest what I had just seen because it took me so off guard, but once I processed the interaction, I really started thinking. You see, Pitbulls by nature are smart (just like you) and eager to please. They are enthusiastic and easy to train. They are social and friendly. Kind of like people in general. Because of these traits, they make really good family members and companions. The UKC even warns against using a Pitbull as a “guard dog” because they enjoy people so much rendering them ineffective for protection! I bet many of you didn’t know that. Pitbull’s as a breed have a really bad reputation in the general public. They seem to be known as dangerous aggressors. People fear them because of their use in dog fighting. And it’s true that the breed as a whole is often used for these illegal and violent events. The information just doesn’t add up. How is it even possible for a dog with a teachable, intelligent, pleasing spirit to turn into a vicious killer?
It’s in the training.
It’s all about the dog’s experiences. It’s all about how the dog is conditioned to respond to the world. You see, all the pitty puppies are born with this sweet teachable spirit along with this deep desire to please people. Puppies who are redirected and taught kindly and lovingly to obey will be loyal and enjoyable and sweet and social. Puppies beaten and neglected and starved and punished will learn to be violent…they will do whatever it takes for survival…they will not trust humans…they will even fight to the death if pushed hard enough. Their sweet spirit will cease to exist as their need for survival kicks in. I think we can all connect those dots pretty easily, yes?
Now consider this. This one is harder.
It's the same with people. Every single human born is trained on how to respond to life and other people from their very first breath. We all come into this world created in the image of a loving, good God and every experience from that day forward trains and shapes and molds how each of us will experience, behave, and respond to others and circumstance and therefore how we will be seen and understood and known in the world. Remember, humans are also extremely smart and easy to train. A human whose personhood is handled with respect and love and whose basic human need for air, food, shelter, clothing, love, safety, and community are met will learn to be kind, productive, caring, social people. But a human deprived of these things… a human beaten or bullied or abused or starved or neglected or oppressed by other humans will learn to respond to their surroundings unfavorably; with fear and violence…they will do whatever it takes for survival…they will not trust …they will use their words to hurt…they will even fight to the death if pushed hard enough.
Think about a time in your own life when someone has offended you. Maybe it was a long time ago or maybe it was moments ago. Got it? I’m thinking of a time way back in college when I received a promotion at my job. We were sitting around a table after it was announced to the staff and my colleagues were giving me congratulations and encouragement. In the middle of all the love, a woman said in a louder than normal inside voice, “You know what we all really love about Becky? We love how uneven her two front teeth are.” And then she laughed. Everyone chuckled uncomfortably and then went back to the celebration. But the damage was done. I was hurt and self- conscious. It stuck with me. Obviously, I can still recall the scene today. But here’s the thing. Knowing what I know now in this season of my life, I don’t think for one second that her need to embarrass me had ANYTHING to do with me. I think somewhere along the course of her life experiences and relationships that she had been conditioned to respond that way. I think she reacted from a place of insecurity or jealousy or hurt or the need to be seen or all of the above. I think she was trained to use her words as weapons to tear others down in order to build herself up in her own mind.
Still thinking about your situation? Good. The same thing is true of the person who offended you.
Okay, that was the hard part. Are you ready for the harder part?
It’s never too late for us to change their training. You can teach old dogs new tricks. Just like a Pitbull can be rescued from a survival culture and loved and retrained back into their gentle disposition making them again suitable companions and family members, so can a human! In and through a relationship with Jesus, any life can be healed, any person can be made new, and conditioning can be retaught. The healing work of Jesus is frequently delivered through people. A good counselor, possibly, but what I really mean is you and me.
It. Will. Be. Hard.
The next time someone says something or posts something or does something that irritates, annoys, hurts, or angers you, step back, take a deep breathe, and remember the person who offended you was created in the image of the same God that created you…they possess the same ability to reflect His heart and character as you do but somebody or likely more than one somebody trained them to respond poorly to you. They are fearful. They have been trained with carelessness and beatings. They are hurting. This broken world full of imperfect people conditioned them to not think before they speak or to regard themselves as more important than other human life. Somewhere along the line they were trained to be insecure or unkind.
It’s not about you, it’s about them! Let this sink in: It’s NEVER about you. Your behavior is about you and theirs is ALWAYS about them.
This does not, of course, excuse the negative behavior of others, it doesn’t excuse the negative behavior of our own, it does not take away our right to feel hurt or to grieve or to set healthy boundaries.
It does not take away the harm that has been done to us, but it does give us freedom and power.
Changing our perspective of the offender gives us a glimpse of heaven this side of eternity. Seeing the offender as a hurting human softens our heart and frees us from bitterness. It changes how we respond to them and it gives us the power to break the cycle of violent, oppressive training. Our loving responses can set the change in motion that could lead the hurting, the lost, and the poorly trained to a whole new life with Jesus where they can be retrained in love and forgiveness and kindness and gentleness and self -control…goodness and peace and patience and joy.
If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, it is your command to lay down your privilege in order to love all people particularly the seemingly unlovable. It’s not an option. It’s bible.
I’m going to start here today: If you have been offended or hurt or abused by someone, I see you, I’m sorry, I’m standing with you, and I love you. I’m glad you’re here. You can stop the cycle. And if you are the offender…if you have been trained to lash out at others with your words or maybe even your hands, if you’ve learned to ignore others’ opinions, to always need to be right, to judge, to criticize, to demean, to remain quiet in the face of injustice or fight even to the death if necessary as long as you win, I see you too. I see YOU. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m glad you’re here, and you need to hear and receive this: God is always on the side of the hurt and oppressed. And that includes you. Your response can change. Nothing but love here. And love always wins.