When my dog Scout and I spotted each other at the local animal shelter, it was love at first sight. He was a four-month-old puppy with soulful eyes and a handsome red coat. I was a mom who had just dropped off my youngest son at college.
Scout needed a home. I needed a boy to care for. We made a perfect match, and I had high expectations.
Right away I enrolled us in obedience classes. Because I was determined that Scout would have excellent manners. And he was a quick student. He learned to go potty outside. To chew only on his own belongings. To not bother the cat. And to wait at the bottom of the stairs when someone comes to the door instead of rushing to greet them with 50 pounds of enthusiasm.
I had high hopes that Scout would be my always well-behaved buddy. But he let me down.
Because the one thing Scout hasn’t learned is how to behave with other dogs when he is on a leash. Oh, he does great at the doggy daycare where he plays once a week with his canine friends.
But let us meet another dog on a hike or out for a walk, and Scout acts like we’re under attack. No amount of correction seems to break the spell on his doggy brain. Instead, I’m left yelling, “He’s very sweet! I’m sorry that we scared you! Let me just drag him on our way! SORRY!”
I’ve tried to train Scout to live up to my expectations. But so far, I’ve failed.
I could let my disappointment over this failure sour how I feel about Scout. I could hold a grudge against him for not being the kind of dog I hoped he would be. One I could trust to play nicely. Not scaring other dog owners with his ferocious barking.
But I’ve accepted Scout for the dog he is – even the parts about him that are different from my ideal. I wouldn’t dream of giving him up or treating him badly because of those things. We have a different kind of relationship than what I imagined, but he’s a great dog, and I love him to bits.
I’ll be the first to admit that this kind of acceptance and unconditional love comes easier for me with Scout than it has with some of the humans in my life.
I arrived later than some to the realization that our relationships don’t always turn out the way we want them to. That our very best intentions sometimes fail. But this is a lesson we all eventually learn because people we love – and people who love us – are human. As in, not perfect. And none of us are capable of living up to anyone’s idealized version of ourselves. That’s a simple fact of life.
But there’s a surefire way to recover and recapture our joy when someone lets us down.
We can change how we respond and choose to let go.
When we let go of our disappointment that someone will never be the person we wish they could be, and accept them for who they are, some pretty amazing things can happen.
We feel better.
Yes! We feel the weight we’ve been dragging around lift off our shoulders. Because letting the other person off the hook, lets us off the hook, too. We don’t have to continue trudging through life holding on to disappointment or anger. We can drop that heavy bundle and move on. We’re free.
We open ourselves up to a new and different kind of relationship.
When we step back to take an honest look at someone who’s hurt or disappointed us by not being the person we want them to be, two things happen. First, our vision clears, so we’re able to see the other person as they truly are. (Isn’t this something we all long for?) And second, we may realize that our expectations are the very thing creating a roadblock against us ever having an authentic relationship with them. Now we can get started on building something new.
(Of course, common sense prevails here. If the thing you wish were different about someone will continue to hurt or put you in harm’s way, the new relationship might necessarily be one kept at a healthy distance.)
We learn a few things about ourselves.
Like how strong and resilient we are. As long as we live like we’ve been deeply hurt and disappointed by someone, we stay stuck. But once we look at the facts and say, “OK. This is who that person is, and that may never change,” we get to decide what happens next. No longer a victim of someone else’s behavior, we can create a different scenario. One in which we are happily living our lives out from under the shadow of a past disappointment or hurt.
Clinging to an ideal image – whether of a parent, a spouse, a child, a boss, a friend – or even a dog – won’t bring us the relationships we’re longing for.
But we can have the beautiful, messy, wonderfully complicated, and authentic relationships of real life when we ask for God’s help to let go and accept the truth about us and the people we love. Because love “rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)
Who knew you could learn so much from a not so well behaved dog?
(And now you know why Scout and I might not stop to say hello if we see you and your pup out walking.)