It’s cold where I’m sitting early Sunday morning, but as I’m waiting for the answer to this puzzle, I barely feel any physical discomfort. In front of me, crouched as far away as he can manage within the confines of his kennel, is my elderly terrier. We are on the patio. He won’t come out and he desperately needs to.
I could simply upend the kennel, or reach in and force him out, but I know this would not be helpful.
You see, my dog’s problem isn’t obedience. It’s pain. He’s in the kennel because, as tried to go through the open patio door, he crashed into the side of the doorway and hurt his right—blind—eye.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to coax him out. I carefully picked up his kennel and set it on the patio, hoping he would get cold and step out. And maybe do what dogs do when they first go outside.
He hurts too much. And he’s too afraid.
I think the Lord is reminding me just now that I’ve been like that over my life. I’ve been like that a lot. Sometimes I’ve been handled well and sometimes not. Sometimes I just hurt too much to do what I should.
What people expect and wish for.
I know better than to try and force my little dog out. I know to move and speak very gently. But that’s all I know.
Suddenly a simple thought presents itself. It’s so simple and so obvious, I don’t understand why it didn’t occur to me sooner.
You may be wondering why I didn’t think of it either, because you’ve probably already thought of it by now.
I go in and fetch a bit of food.
My little dog comes out and eats it.
Then he does what dogs do when they first go outside and our immediate crisis has passed.
There are some lessons here, aren’t there?
Very often, you and I cross paths with people who don’t behave as we hope and expect. Sometimes these people are on our team. Or in our family.
What should we do?
There’s a very understandable tendency among leaders to treat everyone alike. After all, doesn’t it make sense that everyone should play by—and be judged by—the same rules?
I suppose. Except…
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. —1 Thessalonians 5:14-15
Scripture, at least this Scripture, doesn’t seem to line up with what may seem obvious to us. Here, the directive is to treat different kinds of people differently. Here’s the kicker: It’s not about outward behavior; it’s about what’s going on inside.
That means that—with every person, and with every situation—you have to discover the story behind the story.
And that takes discernment. And that takes patience and prayer.
And more than a little work.