As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:11)
But it happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (II Peter 2: 22)
Rudyard Kipling refers to this in his poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, as one of several classic examples of the human tendency to repeat the same mistakes:
“ As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire; ”
Yesterday as I wrote about the folly of rescuing, I became stuck on the disgusting metaphor found in Proverbs 26:11 and, I learned, which was referenced by Peter in the New Testament. I warn the faint of stomach not to picture it this early in the morning! But the unseemly example is based on fact. About 60% of our beloved, beautiful doggies will eat their own vomit! Yuk!
Now before you get too high and mighty about this gross canine behavior, I believe it’s important to do two things. One, entertain the possibility that you and I “do the same thing.” Two, understand why our pups do this, and consider the resulting insights into human foolishness.
Let’s start with #2.
A little research revealed that after a dog throws up, that little darling’s sensitive nose smells food. Oh, surely enough, there may be morsels of food in there, but there was a reason for the throw-up. Poison and illness-producers of all kinds may be right there in the mix. Furthermore, it’s a common canine practice for a mommy dog to regurgitate freshly chewed food to feed her babies when she is beginning to wean them from her milk. That’s actually pretty cool how God implanted such instincts into our furry friends. But there’s a difference between regurgitating and vomiting. Regurgitation is to deliberately bring the food up from the esophagus. Vomiting is an involuntary expulsion of food eaten for some reason. In vomiting, something is wrong. So for the dog, eating his/her own vomit is perceived as very close to the nourishment given by mom in very secure times. But that perception can be wrong – dead wrong.
So back to #1.
What on earth does any of that have to do with us “higher beings?” Is there anything there that helps to answer the questions we’ve posed to ourselves in frustration many times? “Why do I keep making the same mistakes?”
Humans are uniquely qualified to entertain delusions and to distort thinking. We reason. We plan. We react in line with the beliefs we have formed from past experiences. And some of those beliefs have been twisted by our past choices of self-will or by the actions of other unhealthy, unwise human beings.
Yet the needs for “nourishment” are unrelenting. So we look for it. We can “smell” the possibility of it a mile away. However, in that pursuit, we often mistakenly sniff it out in a situation that is also filled with poison and disease. We look for love in all the wrong places. We see a glimmer of “hope” in a persistent pattern of destruction, and we hold on. We are determined to “find the food” hidden in the throw-up.
And so, we go back, go back, and go back again. The force of habit from all the repetition doesn’t help a thing. We resolve to do better, but we disappoint ourselves over and over.
Surely, surely there must be a way to break free and do it differently! But how? Scripture tells us that we are new creatures in Christ! But how can we live that out in confronting old, destructive habits that pull us back into disgusting mistakes?
Let’s talk about that tomorrow.
God, I love how You inspired Biblical writers to use such graphic metaphors! Thank You for the hunger to find out what You are saying and how that helps us to live in a more healthy way. Help us to learn the lessons, O Lord, and to live them!
As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:11)
A man of great anger will bear the penalty, For if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again. (Proverb 19: 19)
Sorry to begin with such a gross image – your doggie throwing up and then eating it! No kisses for you tonight, Fido!
This image was so disgusting that I did a little research to find out why on earth an otherwise sane and loving pup would do that, and I gained some interesting insights about why you and I sometimes return over and over to habitual, toxic sources of “nourishment.” I think I may write about that tomorrow.
However, today’s message is a specific follow-up to Friday’s thoughts about when it’s time to leave a bad relationshp. We’re talking today about the delusional belief that if we just stay long enough, love hard enough, and “help” enough – a “loved” one will finally get it and become a different person.
Now listen, I’m all about change. I devote my life to the promotion of hope. However, I’m also all about taking responsibility for yourself, about making choices that allow you to maximize the talents God has placed within you, and about caring enough for your purpose in life to guard against toxicity to its expression.
The habit of rescuing while hoping against hope that this time will be the charm is one that will ultimately destroy you. In fact, it will destroy the intended “helpee,” too! How, you ask?
People learn by experiencing the results of the choices they make. If they feel the pain of a poor decision, that action is more easily catalogued as one to avoid. (Not guaranteed, but possible.) If you, the rescuer, are the one feeling the pain, you rob your irresponsible loved ones of the blessed opportunity to learn and to change. Those individuals become more and more irresponsible and more crippled. Their current unwise or cruel behavior seems to be working, so they keep it up.
What are you really “teaching” in your unhealthy relationships?
Have you stayed too long in a cycle of “helping” that hurts both you and the intended “helpee?”
Is it time to seek God to learn to see what you can control with His help – YOU? (No one else.)
That wise Proverb says it all: “If you rescue, you will have to do it all over again.”
When and where does it stop?
O God, grant us wisdom in our relationships! Show us where we’ve allowed the compassion You’ve placed inside us to get way out of balance. Help us never to get in the way of Your work inside those we love. Rescue us from rescuing, my Lord!
(I’m so sorry that I was not here yesterday! When I got ready to write the devotional, I realized I had left my laptop at the office. Then my phone wouldn’t even let me into WordPress to let you know what had happened. I guess it’s called life…)
…Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12)
The ability to let it go and move on is a life skill the lack of which has kept many a person paralyzed. Lately, I’ve had a rash of such situations in my clinical practice, and it always breaks my heart to see it. Well-meaning, loving people can languish in a relationship situation that drains their energy, their sense of self-worth, and even their ability to function. They hang onto a horrific situation in the desperate hope that somehow this individual is suddenly going to become someone he or she has never consistently been. Oh, sure, they see little bursts of nice that give them false hope. But the big picture is what counts. The patterns are the patterns.
Mind you, I’m not talking about flippantly letting go of a marriage in the pursuit of elusive “happiness.” Marriage adds a whole other level of endurance of a difficult situation and exhausting every possibility over time. Marriage calls for spending much time before God, asking Him to help you see your contribution to the mess and to help you to change your attitudes and habits. Marriage calls forth the need to quit playing the blame game and get honest with yourself about “what it’s like to be on the other side of me.” (That’s always a good idea in every type of relationship.) Leaving a marriage relationship after all has been exhausted is not God’s ideal, but neither does that mean your spiritual and emotional life is over. God restores the willing and committed heart.
However, this message is primarily written to those who are not legally committed but who are mired in a relationship in which they are going in muddy circles.
- The person has promised over and over to change, but the change never comes.
- Your personalities and approaches are so different that you’re in a constant battle about “the right way.”
- Your relationship partner has been in life situations of tremendous injury, and he/she continues to assume and project that onto you – persistently misreading your every motive.
- Your needs, opinions, and values are ignored; they don’t count at all.
- You’ve adapted and adapted to the point that you are a person you don’t like.
If you are in a relationship or situation that is “strengthening your weaknesses,” in other words, bringing out or emphasizing the worst in you, you need to do one of two things:
1) Run like the wind;
2) Look at what is coming out when you are squeezed, ask for divine empowerment to fix yourself, THEN run like the wind.
God, I pray for those who need the courage to step out of a relationship situation that will ultimately destroy them. You know, I’ve been there. I know the pain and the fultility first hand. Grant them wisdom, O Lord, the vision to see what can be and to trust You for the future You have in store.
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1: 26-38)
I know, I know. It’s near Thanksgiving, not Christmas. However, the Holy Spirit nudged me to write about this today – for you?
Let’s put this scene in context. Mary was a young, “betrothed” girl. In their culture, betrothal was much stronger than our engagement. To be betrothed was to be married, covenant commitment and all. If someone (rarely!) wanted to end a betrothal, they’d actually have to go through a divorce. However, the difference was that the relationship had not been physically consummated.
So Mary was betrothed to Joseph. She was likely around 13 years old. We can surmise this because females in that Jewish culture were typically given in marriage right after puberty. She was a good girl and a sweet girl, but she had very little life experience. She was minding her own business, going about her daily routine one day when she heard the unimaginable. She received an assignment she had not considered in her wildest fantasies.
When the huge, glowing angel Gabriel appeared to her, you could have knocked Mary over with the tiniest feather! What he was telling her made no human sense. She would conceive and bear the Son of God, Savior of the world? How could that be? She had not been intimate with a man previously, and she and Joseph would not come together until another phase of their marriage. She was a virgin, and virgins don’t become pregnant.
But when God is in it, the humanly impossible becomes reality!
And so it is with you and me. When God calls us, He provides the way. What you and I lack, He supplies. Our weakness is replaced by His strength – if we say yes to Him.
Mary wasn’t prepared in so many ways for this dream-of-a-divine-assignment. However, she was ready ways that you and I can be, too. Her heart was open and submitted unto the Lord. Though she was overwhelmed, and she did not comprehend it all, her answer was, “Yes. Whatever You say, Lord, I will do.”
Her willingness was infused with one more thing the angel promised. Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that’s how she would conceive Jesus. How much more do you and I have that Resource! Back in Mary’s day interactions with the Holy Spirit, as beautiful and powerful as they were, were accomplished from the outside. The Holy Spirit “came upon” Mary, the prophets, and others in special visitations. The miracle of the Holy Spirit inside the believer had not yet occurred.
However, you and I actually have the Spirit of God Himself living inside us, being Himself and doing all He is capable of achieving through the submitted human spirit, mind, and body. No matter what God has called you to do, the question is not, “Am I capable?” The real issue is, “Is HE capable?”
Someone besides me is reading this with a dream in your heart conceived there by God Himself. You’ve argued with it, wrestled with it, and tried to set it aside. However, it has you in its grip, and it won’t release you. This assignment is consistent with God’s Word and congruent at the core with what matters most to you.
Isn’t it about time to say what the virgin Mary said to Gabriel?
“I am Your servant, Lord. I receive and will act on what You have said.”
I’d love to hear about it.
I am Your servant, Lord. I receive and will act on what You have said.
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness.
Stretch out Your Hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the Name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4: 29-31)
The scene was Jerusalem after Jesus had arisen and ascended His throne in heaven. The disciples had waited in prayer as they were told, daring not to “try this at home” on their own. Then the Holy Spirit had been sent by Jesus to live inside them and to empower them to do that same acts He did, as He promised. In fact, He had told them that they would do greater acts because they would be living in the New Covenant after Jesus had completed the work of redemption.
Peter and John had been the human channels through which God had healed a crippled beggar that everyone had known for years. This caused quite a stir, and the disciples were hauled in before the powers-that-be, who demanded some answers about how this had taken place. Peter and John did not back down or mince words when they gave credit where credit was due. The “powers” had crucified Jesus, and now the very alive Jesus was still among them, healing.
But how could this be? Jesus been crucified, buried, rose again, and then He went on back to heaven. As far as the rulers knew, they’d been completely successful in the first two. The answer to that was revealed in their prayer when the disciples were back with the other believers. A portion of that prayer is found at the beginning of this message.
It was the part in bold letters that captivated my attention as I read this prayer. “Stretch out YOUR Hand,” and in fact, visibly they would stretch out their own hands. This got me digging, as I often do. (I highly recommend it.) I wanted to know more about “hand.” Interestingly, I learned that the word hand is used 1800 times in the scripture, which seems to make it pretty significant. I learned that the hand is used as a metaphor for power and strength, authority, and even the expression of the wishes and will of the entire person. The hand reaches out, works, makes things happen.
So that brings us back to the prayer of Peter and John in Acts when the Council had chastised and threatened them about healing the lame man. Within the context of their assertion to themselves and God that they could not help continuing the work, they prayed that God would stretch out His Hand to heal. Think about this. It was they who physically would be there, stretching out their human hands, but God was the force of power inside causing it all to happen.
It hit me that they knew that they were only “gloves.” They were only the human “covering” God was using to do His work.They were only the physical conduits of God’s power and authority. God’s Hand was at work. They were simply the gloves. Take the glove off The Hand, and that glove is limp and powerless to act on its own.
When the Holy Spirit begins to enlighten you about what’s really happening, you become bolder. You know that you are not reaching out to touch someone with your strength and power; it’s God’s! You don’t have to wonder about whether you should boldly speak the Word of healing to people with all kinds of emotional and physical maladies. God inside you is perfectly capable of making good on His promises.
For me, and I hope you, this puts it all in a whole new light.
Lord, please let me always be aware of YOUR hand as the source of any results in which You allow me to be a human participant. I humbly recognize that I function only as a glove, and without You, I am totally powerless. Be Yourself in me as I go out today, my God.
Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Veteran’s Day was actually Saturday. As God would have it, my dear Uncle Cecil Hannaford, World War II vet, was buried that day. “The greatest generation” is fast leaving us, and what a model they and the veterans of other wars and peace times have been for us!
In our country, the willingness to sacrifice has become a rarer commodity. Unfortunately, the priority for too many is what I want, my “needs,” my immediate desires, and what strokes my ego. Selfishness and narcissism are rampant. Self-sacrifice for the common good? Not so much.
Our veterans have been a live demonstration and inspiration for what it means to sacrifice for something bigger than themselves, for a cause that makes a difference to others. They have set aside their own plans, priorities, and personal dreams. They have even have given their lives for our freedom, “the greatest love.” Their families of the deployed have also sacrificed, being left behind to fend for themselves while dreading a certain horrific knock on the door.
I’m reminded of a quote often mentioned by my pastor, Dwayne Higgason: “The most important thing in life is to live your life for something that is more important than your life.” As believers in Christ, we experience the opportunity to do just that. I’m afraid the time is rapidly approaching and tragically, is already here when persecution and violence against believers require us to either back down or stand up. Will you and I pass the test?
Our military personnel made a choice that difficult when they enlisted, a choice that has potential life-or-death consequences. The decision to stand and fight in the face of even death to protect their country has already been made. They’ve endured the unthinkable conscientiously, and some made the ultimate sacrifice of their very lives. Do you and I have that kind of conviction?
I came across a few other thought-provoking quotes that remind me of our veterans and what we can learn from them. (Authors were not specified in my source.) Good advice for us civilians is embedded here.
“The most certain way of ensuring victory is to march briskly and in good order against the enemy, always endeavoring to gain ground.”
“March brinkly and in good order.” I like that. I don’t do that good order part as well as I would like, though. How are you faring on initiative, diligence, and organization?
“Perfect valor is to behave without witnesses as you would act were all the world watching.”
That’s called character. Oh, my Lord, we need more of it in our country! We must examine ourselves to see if there are little cracks inside us that can grow to manifest as caverns.
“The nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”
Are you and I brave enough to stand and make a difference, right where we are?
Today, we honor our veterans for their bravery and their faithfulness. I say from the bottom of my heart, “Thank you, Uncle Cecil, and thanks to all veterans. We wouldn’t be living in the land of the free without you.”
Lord, please help me to be willing to sacrifice to make things better for others. Teach me to forego what I think I want right now for what can be in the future. Inspire me to let go of my often self-centered ways to see clearly what is truly good. Help me not to resent it when I am called to sacrifice, but to consider it a privilege. Thank you for the veterans who have done just that for us. Continue to teach each of us the endurance and stamina to fulfill our own callings and assignments!