Carrot and Stick

We’ve just joined the Covid pandemic crowd of new puppy owners. To be fair having a dog isn’t a new thing for us. Until just over two years ago we had a choccie lab called Archie. Aged thirteen and a half he died when my youngest Toby was just three weeks old. With a fifteen month old and a baby life was full on and I still don’t feel we properly mourned his passing. However at various points we have acutely felt the lack of his presence with us and have really wanted to have a doggie as part of our family again. With two little people in the house no reputable dog rescue charity will rehome a canine with us and so we decided to take the plunge and get a puppy – something neither Mike or I have any experience with.

We have been recommended a really good book called Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy which has lots of training tips in it. The main premise is that praise is far more effective than chastisement. Positive reinforcement and encouragement for doing the right thing works far better than harsh words and admonishment for getting it wrong. So the idea is that if Harry wees in the house we make no comment – just clean it up throughly – but when he wees outside he gets lots of praise and treats. If Harry jumps up and bites we turn away and ignore him but when he sits calmly he gets lots of fuss and strokes.

It’s actually not dissimilar with young children. I’m not saying we just ignore their bad behaviour, we do deal with it but my two respond and behave better when we’re praising them for what they’re getting right. When we overreact to bad behaviour it does seem to exacerbate it.

I’ve been reflecting that actually as adults we’re not much different however much we’d like to think we’re all grown up and wouldn’t respond the same as a dog or toddler!

I’ve always found managing my weight a battle. A number of years ago my GP referred me to see a dietitian – at the time I was about fifteen and half stone. I went into the appointment positive but after being lectured for an hour on everything I must never eat again I was so depressed I came out, went to Greggs and bought a steak slice, a sausage roll and a cake and ate the lot – something I’d never normally do despite my weight at that time suggesting otherwise.

Not much longer after that I ended up at Slimming World. I was still given an eating regime but it allowed for treats and mess ups and it came with a big dose of encouragement, positive thinking, support and grace. I lost three stone at that time.

Earlier this year I had a telephone appointment with a specialist women’s health physio. She clearly knew her stuff and the advice she gave me made sense but her delivery of it was brutal. She made me cry and it felt what she was asking was going to be so hard to achieve. She took away a big achievement for me – running regularly – and basically told me that the condition I was in was a product of my own choices (to have children) and that if I wanted to change it then it was up to me to put in the hard work – if I didn’t then I’d have to expect to keep weeing myself.

Now I admit that every now and again we all might need a bit of tough love. But like dogs and toddlers I think we all respond better to encouragement and grace. A number of weeks later my physio assistant who has been working with me on exercises referred me for a face to face appointment with a different specialist physio so they could actually do a physical examination and assess how I was doing. And I am so glad she did.

For the past ten weeks I have been under Dawn’s expertise and guidance and it has been a completely different experience. She offers compassion and encouragement, she looks at the whole picture of my life and lifestyle and tailors her advice to fit in with that, seeing me as not just a woman with a pelvic floor problem but an individual with a lot going on. Yes my problems downstairs might be technically of my own making but Dawn acknowledges the miracle that having two children has been and is realistic about what can be improved while encouraging about what can change. She jokes and makes me laugh. Dawn recognises the importance of supporting my mental health in order to help my physical health and advised on how I could safely start running again. She makes me feel encouraged and hopeful and the impact is that physically I am getting there – things are improving!!

Sadly many people’s experiences of church has been of the tough love variety…. At its worst – “your life is a mess, you’re not welcome here until you sort it out.” Only slightly better is the, “We welcome you, God loves you but this, this and this part of your life is a mess – sort it out and conform to our expectations as quickly as you can or always remain feeling guilty that you don’t quite come up to standard.”

This is so at odds with how Jesus went about addressing people’s sins. It wasn’t that he lowered standards, he actually often raised the bar higher. With religious authorities Jesus could be extremely harsh in his criticism but for the individual seeking truth and life he has great compassion. He called them to a better way of life because he loved them and wanted a better life for them. He saw and addressed them as a whole person made in Gods image, not just focussing on what needed fixing. He built them up and gave them a hopeful vision of the future whilst also showing them the work needed to get there. He equipped them with what they needed to do that work.

And that’s how Jesus continues to work. Ultimately Jesus died to show us just how much he loves and values us just as we are. He rose from the dead and made that same power available to us to make changes in our lives. He gave us his Holy Spirit to work in us, give us a positive vision and empower us to take steps of change.

If your experience of church has up to this point in your life has been one of leaving you feeling unworthy, unlovely and like you could never match up then please accept my apologies on behalf of Jesus – that is absolutely not what He wants for you.

The church as God’s representatives here on earth should be copying Jesus’ example. At the core of who we are should be the offer of unconditional love, calling people to live better lives because they at God’s children and they deserve better lives. And that call should always be delivered with a extra dollop of compassion and encouragement.

As we look upon each other with compassion and grace, as we encourage and build each other up, we are far more able to empower each other to make the changes we need to live out the lifestyle that God calls us to both to honour Him but also to honour ourselves – His precious creation.

And in the words of Paul:

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