I knew an ancient, cantankerous, gunnery sergeant who upon his retirement from service converted his former farmlands into a beautiful nine-hole golf course. That old Marine treated those of us who arrived to play like new recruits, potential marauders who might harm his carefully curated grounds.
Gunny had a dog that matched his own menacing temperament, an enormous wolf-like German Shepherd named Striker. Striker would swagger through the parking area, prowl about the makeshift pro-shop, and would sometimes greet golfers at the first tee, his lip curling in suspicious snarl.
One day Striker was in an especially terrible mood. He was pacing angrily about, silent as death, stalking golfers upon arrival. As I moved slowly toward the first tee I kept a wary eye on him, fearing for my life. With my attention drawn to the wolf, I was successfully ambushed by the Marine’s other guard dog, Chi.
Bursting from the azalea bushes like a heatseeking missile, Chi latched onto my ankle like a Tasmanian devil: Chi the famously vicious four-pound Chihuahua. Over the years, I played the Marine’s golf course countless times. Striker rarely barked and never harmed a soul, but that savage Chihuahua tried to devour every person who arrived.
Chi had something called, “Small Dog Syndrome” (One of my own dogs is afflicted with the disease). It is characterized by a little dog’s attempt to dominate. He snarls and threatens, barks at every new noise, and must mark his territory with precision and regularity. And why? Because the small dog is inherently foul-tempered?
No, it is because he is small. Living life only a foot off the ground with only a few pounds to throw around, the little dog must announce his presence and fiercely attack all who come into his orbit lest he get stomped, punted, eaten, or squished. It is his smallness, his insecurity and fear, that causes the small dog to be so utterly mean.
Most of us suffer from this same syndrome. We bark and yip because we have something to prove. We have territory and opinions to anxiously mark and protect. We howl and bite because we are rife with fear and inadequacies. We greet each distant noise as an intrusion, a direct attack by the massive foreboding world against which we have few defenses.
What is the cure – for both canines and humans? It’s something called loving presence. When one knows that he or she is loved, secure, and safe, then there is nothing left to protect, prove, or protest. Love sustains and strengthens. Love settles and soothes.
This is the crux of one of the Apostle Paul’s prayers: “I pray that from God’s glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength…that God’s love will keep you strong.” My friends, we don’t have to bluff, bully, or bluster our way through life. We have enough – we are enough – as the beloved of God. That should help us all wag more and bark less.