• Sheila Harkins

Freedom and a Dog Named Chocolate


photo cred: Milo Cho

Chocolate’s favorite way to survey his kingdom was to sit on a bench or a table with his two front legs crossed in front of him. He reminded us of a lion keeping watch over his territory. In reality, he was just a Thai soi (street) dog overseeing our large yard.


Our entire family loved him and he was good at loving us back.


One of his love languages was protection. He spoke this primarily by appearing ferocious to strangers who walked near our gate and by killing any moving creature in the yard. When it came to the dozens of snakes, monitor lizards and tookays he killed, we were always thankful.


Choco loved playing with our kids and their friends, eating all of our leftovers, and racing the motorcycles on our street. He did this by running the length of the wall that surrounded our yard anytime a motorcycle was on the other side.


When our kids left home and our empty nest became a reality, we decided it was time for us to move, too. It brought us great delight that another family with children moved into our house and they decided to keep Chocolate.


The house that had once been ours then became known as Baan Chocolate (Chocolate’s house.) You would think that Chocolate--belly full, a territory to protect, enemies to kill, and people to love would have been quite content inside his kingdom.


But that was not the case. He always, always wanted more. He continually tried to pursue freedom by trying to slip outside the gate whenever he could. There were many mornings when our children (holding band instruments, projects, sports equipment and everything else required for a day of school) weren’t quite successful in blocking him out as they went through the gate. And, he would be off. Our day would start out stressfully as we tried to corral him back into our yard.


If we weren’t able to catch him, he would always come back to our gate after a quick jaunt around the neighborhood.


Until one day a couple of years ago. We were visiting our old neighborhood and he was out of his gate and happened to see us. After a joyful greeting, we tried unsuccessfully to send him back to his home. In a hurry to get to an appointment, we got in a taxi and assumed Chocolate would go back home.


But this time, as freedom beckoned, he ventured further away than he ever had before. And he didn’t return. When we found out that afternoon that he was still missing, we joined others in searching for him.


All to no avail.


Losing a dog anywhere is a very sad experience. Knowing that a ten-lane highway is just beyond the neighborhood makes it feel hopeless.


Day one passed. Then, day two. The sadness, guilt, and pain of his disappearance began to multiply. Days 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 slipped away. We continued to grapple with the grief and loss. By days eight and nine, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that Chocolate was gone.


And, then, the miracle!


Across the ten-lane highway and near a large junction on down the road, neighbors spotted a brown dog that looked like Chocolate, lying in the grass near the highway. Getting out of their truck and going nearer, they discovered that it was indeed Chocolate! A pitiful, skin-and-bones Chocolate who couldn’t even stand up. They lifted him gently and placed him in their truck and carried him to be reunited with his family back home.


It’s the familiar story, isn’t it?


The prodigal son.

The loved one seeking something more.

The beloved thinking that they are trapped and unloved at home.

The heart that is always searching for something more.


This past weekend the theme of our yearly high school retreat was freedom. One idea that kept coming up was that what we often think is freedom—the absence of restrictions --is actually the very thing that will bind us.


I see this longing in the lives of the teens I work with.


“If only there weren’t so many rules….”

“If I could just do it my way….”

“Who are they to tell me how to run my life?”

“It’s my life—why do they care what I’m doing?”

“I wish my parents weren’t so protective.”


Of course, I see it in my own heart, too. I think I am strong enough to handle my own schedule. I think I don’t need anyone questioning the decisions that I am making. I think I can handle this relationship on my own. I think I know how to take care of this problem. I think I have good excuses for my laziness or giving into my cravings or scrolling mindlessly through social media.


This independent, self-reliant thinking will always end up trapping us.


We were made for more. We were made to depend on the God who created us. We were made to live in community with others. Being connected to God and others requires boundaries. It requires certain restrictions. It requires surrendering to higher purposes than just our immediate desires.


True freedom is being able to see that the deeper desires of our hearts—the desires for connection, for being loved and loving others, for healing and for wholeness—requires giving up some of the things that we consider freedoms.


Many of the teens that I work with understand this concept very well in their studies.


Their actions show that they believe that, in order to get the education and success that they want, they need to sacrifice binging on TV shows or going out on weeknights.

Sometimes they have a harder time seeing that it is also true in the area of our hearts.


In order to find the freedom of what we truly want, we often have to sacrifice the freedom we think we should be able to have.


For example, I find that with many teens who are drawn to porn don’t want to be enslaved to it. Perhaps they started viewing porn for the same reasons that Chocolate took off into unknown territory.


Excitement.

Curiousity.

The rush of something new.


However, as it begins to bind them, they find that they have wandered off so far that they don’t know how to get back home. Their addiction is constantly calling to them. They feel trapped and they are hurting and they are covered in shame.


They need loved ones to pick them up and tenderly carry them back home. They need the sweetness of the reminder that everyone can be rescued. They need loving care while they try to re-train their brains.


Of course, porn is just one example of the many things that trap us. There are many others.


Performance.

Approval.

Overeating or undereating.

An unhealthy relationship.

Unforgiveness.

Social media.

Comfort.


Many things begin with us wanting a little more independence, a little more fun.


However, often what looks like the gate to freedom is actually the pathway to slavery.

This past weekend as we talked about freedom and bondage, we used an illustration of tying the teens’ hands together for a few minutes during one of the sessions. We then came around and prayed for them and cut the fabric off. Several of the teens talked to me about how thankful they were when their hands were set free. Even though it was for such a short time, it still gave them a glimpse of the beauty of freedom.


I love the picture that comes to my mind when I read this verse “I walk around in freedom because I have sought out your precepts” Psalm 119:45.


Chocolate returned and was nourished and loved back to health. He once again ruled his kingdom.


My desire is that we would continually point each other back to the safety and beauty of God’s boundaries. There is joy in walking around in freedom!

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