The Barky Beagles and Transformation
Our neighbor’s two dogs have been affectionately christened the Barky Beagles. My son, Jackson, knows their actual names, but I am at a loss to remember. We are thankful these dogs are neighbors down the street and not next-door. On our standard route for walking our dog, Buddy, the barking starts on the approach. By the time Buddy and I can see both of them, they have worked themselves up to a fever-pitch. It is amazing to see such small hounds capable of producing such loud decibels. Buddy ignores them, as I yell out a friendly greeting: “Hey Barky Beagles, we are your friends. Say hi to Buddy.”
Some weeks ago, probably trying to appease frustrated neighbors, the owners took action. The Barky Beagles only started to whine and half-bark as we walked by. Wondering, we observed what looked like a shock-anti-bark-dog-collar. I know such a thing exists – I looked it up on the Internet. It seems that barking now had a painful aftershock, literally an aftershock.
Maybe two weeks ago, the collars disappeared. The Barky Beagles are back in full stereo sound.
It is as if the shock-collar method never existed. The impulse never left the brain of the dog, it was only stifled when they were fitted with the restraint. I think that gives us a great lesson as people-helpers. We are looking for the method, the therapy that changes the heart; not the restraint that only temporarily changes a destructive behavior.
Isn’t that how Jesus walked among us? At one point there was grace toward a wrong, at another strong confrontation and rebuke, at another a profound story. I bet you can remember stories of each from the gospels. Jesus used whatever method worked to cut to the heart of that person, that would move their thinking toward health and godliness.
Our goal is not finding the perfect method of therapy, but moving the heart toward positive transformation.
For one person one method is going to work, yet for another with the same difficulties, it may not do a thing. The wise people-helper will feel their way toward the method and work that actually brings inner transformation to that particular individual.
Yes, I do have a particular bias, a methodology that I believe fits a biblical world view and also allows us to explore the science of people helping to do our job better. It just happens to be a chapter of the American Association of Christian Counselors – Christian Psychology division ( http://christianpsych.org/wp_scp/about-the-society/). I also see good in other views and sympathize with both integration and biblical counseling models. We all have particular ideas from our education, church affiliation, and mentors.
My point is, we are aiming to find a method that transforms the heart of that patient, where they begin to become a new kind of person. In my conversations explaining a new way to look at emotion, I often talk to people about the idea that acting loving toward a spouse will result in a rekindled feeling of love toward that spouse. This idea is often preached from our pulpits and in our marriage books. But this is a half-truth. This method often works because acting loving usually changes our heart toward the other person, it works to reset our thoughts and values. However, it does not always work, because it does not always reset our thoughts and values and thoughts and values are what are behind what we are feeling. The truth is that whatever changes our heart–our inner self–toward the spouse we have ceased to love like we should is what will result in a love rekindled.
All kinds of different methods can work to rekindle love in a marriage. Knowledge, wisdom, history and circumstances will often dictate what will work in that particular situation. We cannot think that behaving in a loving way is THE solution, it is only one possible way among many to work toward transforming a heart.
This is the hard work of therapy, realizing that your own tried and true method may be deficient in a particular case and being courageous enough to try something new. Like the Barky Beagles, if the shock-collar does not change the desire to bark, when the collar comes off there will be no lasting change. The Christian therapist is looking for heart transformation, not a quick and easy method to change behavior for a few short weeks or years.
We are not aiming at perfect HOW, because we have the perfect WHO – the person of Jesus Christ. Our methods are imperfect human constructs, our job, led by the Holy Spirit, is to use whatever method works, consistent with biblical truth, to point people to the truth that will remake the human heart.
*Matthew Elliott earned his PhD in New Testament by showing how cutting-edge science about emotion can help us understand biblical commands like “love your neighbor.” He teaches people how to live biblically, in emotional maturity and fullness. Dr. Elliott’s writings include the books Feel and Faithful Feelings.