When I was a teenager, I was involved in a lot of activities at school. Some of these activities took place after school. Late buses were provided to get us home after these activities. The trouble was that the late bus didn't take you all the way home. There were 50 or so buses at 3:00 p.m., but only a half dozen at 4:00 or 5:00p.m. So they did a Reader's Digest condensed version of the bus routes, causing many of us to have to walk the rest of the way home or have a parent or sibling pick us up.
I guess I was lucky. I didn't have far to walk. The late bus dropped me off at the bottom of our hill. I just had to walk halfway up the hill. There were two ways to do that: walk up the road and around a blind curve, or walk up through the neighbors' yards and into ours.
My parents didn't want me walking up the road because of the traffic. I really didn't want to go that way either. I was afraid of the traffic. One wacky driver, and I'd be history.
But there was a problem with walking up through the neighbors' yards.
But he was a big German shepherd.
And I was afraid of dogs. Any kind of dog. If it barked, it was scary. Especially big, dark barking dogs. And this one barked and barked and barked.
And he was in the middle of my path home.
There was no way around his yard. I had to go through it to get into mine. And I couldn't get through it without him running out and barking at me. And he was relentless.
So were my tears and fears.
I would stand on the edge of his yard watching him in his yard barking at me-and I'd never know what to door how to get around him. To this day, I don't remember how I got past him and into my yard-though I did it often. I do remember standing there and being afraid. Sometimes I would stand there crying.
Not alone in the rain
One afternoon in particular stands out. It was pouring down rain. As I rode the bus home, I thought that maybe someone in my family would love me enough to drive to the bottom of the hill and pick me up so I wouldn't have to walk home in the rain-and past the barking dog. But no car awaited me as I got off the bus. I watched other students jump into waiting cars and ride off. But not me. I had to walk up the hill in the pouring rain past the dog.
On that day it was too much, and I just stood at the edge of his yard crying and crying because I didn't know how to get past him-and all the while he stood there barking and barking at me. He didn't seem to mind the rain.
Now while some of you are feeling sorry for me standing there in the rain afraid of a dog and may even understand my fears (and others of you are thinking that I was a pretty big wimp), I need to tell you something else about the dog.
He was chained.
Yep. Chained to his doghouse.
He could go only so far. There was an evident circle of just how far that was. And I didn't have to walk into it. I could walk around and get home without ever getting close to him.
And I knew it.
I saw the chain.
I saw the circle.
I saw the path home.
But fear kept me from moving forward.
I knew the truth, but I didn't live like it.
I stood frozen in fear, feeling sorry for myself and angry at my family for not caring enough to rescue me and provide a safe (and dry) way around the dog.
Looking back, I realize how incredibly silly the whole thing was. The dog couldn't hurt me. I could walk home with confidence. I don't know why it seemed like such an insurmountable obstacle and drove me to such fear and froze my feet.
However, sometimes I still do the same thing.
Not with dogs. They don't scare me much anymore.
But there are other truths that I sometimes have a hard time living up to.
The devil barks at me that I'm worthless, hopeless, a failure. That God can't possibly forgive me again. That my life has no purpose and makes no difference.
I know the truth.
The devil is lying.
Because of God and the price He has paid for me, I am valuable. I have hope. I fail and sin, but I am forgiven. God gives me purpose and uses me in ways that I'm not even aware of.
But sometimes the barking is so loud that I forget the truth.
I allow the devil's lies to cause me not to move forward-not to walk the path God wants me to. To stand frozen in fear that the barking is really true even though I know differently.
I've watched others allow the "barking dog" to keep them from fully living like God wants.
In small groups I've heard women say, "I can't pray aloud. I stumble over my words and don't make any sense. I just can't do it."
The truth is that no matter how your words come out, when you are praying for someone else, it sounds like beauty to them. They don't hear the faltering-they hear the love. It's the devil who barks that you can't pray, keeping you from praying aloud for others who need it.
I've watched women who were asked to do something that would stretch them say "No, I can't," when with God's grace and help, they can. (All His callings are enablings.) And the experience would cause them to know God more and be used by Him more powerfully. The devil knows this. That's why he barks so loudly, "You can't. You don't have what it takes. You can't make a difference in anyone's life. Look how badly you handle your own."
A barking dog.
Standing in the path God has for you.
Keeping you from moving forward.
When I was asked to be the Women's Ministries director for the Pennsylvania Conference, I said no. The dog was barking very loudly. I knew me. I was too shy. I didn't know anyone. I was more comfortable in the background than up front. I knew that there was no way I could do the job. But circumstances forced me to say yes. And the role has changed me so much and has become one of the things I enjoy doing most. I am a different person as a result of saying yes.
That's what the devil is afraid of.
He's afraid that if you move forward on God's path for you, you will become all He's created you to be. And that scares him.
So he stands in the path and barks.
But the Bible promises that he's chained. He can't separate us from God's love. He can't prevent God from accomplishing His work in and through us. He can't keep us from getting home.
Tamyra Horst works for the Pennsylvania Conference assistant to the president for communications. Her favorite roles are a wife to Tim, a mom to Josh and Zach, and a child of God, growing, stumbling, and longing to know Him more.