When We Wander Away from God

We’re given free will. What happens when we stray?

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Posted in , Dec 9, 2020

Waiting with Gracie

The leash. What owner and his dog are unacquainted with this strange bond? So much is symbolized by the leash, not least of all—trust. 

Gracie’s is red. Matches her collar. No pink for her. She’s outdoorsy, athletic, tomboyish to use an old term. More than anything she wants to run like the wind, kicking up her legs, ears flying. Which is why that moment when we are on a certain part of a hiking trail where I feel comfortable unleashing her is a moment of truth and an exercise in trust. It’s never totally easy for me and not just because my wife Julee would kill me if I ever lost Gracie.

I did lose her once for a few hours, at her favorite spot, Monument Mountain here in western Massachusetts. She ran off into the woods after some scent or another. I expected her back in five minutes or so. Five minutes passed. Then 10. I marched up the trail in the direction she disappeared, praying with every step and blowing a whistle I carry with me. No Gracie. I hiked to the summit then down the other side. I searched a loop trail then hiked all the way back to the spot I last saw her. I called her name until I was practically hoarse. More than two hours had passed. It dawned on me I might have lost her forever. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more bleak. 

Fortunately, Monument is a popular spot and fellow hikers soon reported seeing a solo golden retriever on one part of the trail or another, including a beautiful female sitting at a juncture where Gracie and I often stopped for water. She was searching for me too! Finally, I got a call on my cell from a group near the summit who had encountered her and called the number on her tags. An hour later we were reunited in the parking lot, Gracie was relieved to see me as I was to see her. The look she gave me said, “Don’t you ever run off like that again!” To this day I believe she thought I was the one who got lost. And maybe I was. I should have just stayed where I was to begin with. She would have found me. 

That was a couple of years ago. Gracie’s wiser now but she still loves her freedom even if she keeps an eye on me. She hears the click of her leash coming off her collar, and her whole body quivers even as my heart beats just a touch more rapidly. Then she’s off like a shot. But she stops and gives me a look. Again, it’s as if she is saying, “I trust you when I am on the leash. You can trust me when I’m off.” 

And she’s right. A dog on a leash must trust that the human on the other end of the leash will let no harm come to her.

I’m not fond of human/dogs/God analogies, and that’s not what I’m doing here. Still, there is a lesson in the leash, for me at least. God does let me off leash. The Bible teaches me how to live, and I am given free will. When I stray, as I sometimes do, I find my way back to Him. Sometimes the way back is easy, sometimes I am so lost the way back is hard and painful. But God is never lost. He is always there to be returned to. No harm can come to me when I am with Him.

I’ve learned my lesson with Gracie, too. I wait patiently at the spot where I have released her. She always comes back. She gives me a look that says, “Good boy. I’m glad you didn’t wander off this time.”

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