About a month ago, RJ and I went up to Big Bear with some friends to hike in the snow.
Before we left our house, one of our friends asked, “Are you guys going to bring Daisy?”
…Really? This prissy dog??
The same Daisy who hates going for walks in the rain because her precious little paws get wet? The Daisy who doesn’t play well with big dogs because they play too “ruff” (see what I did there? I’m so funny, I’m the funniest!) and because she is a delicate, refined creature? I mean…we’d probably end up having to carry her a few steps into the hike up the mountain, her precious little paws would freeze!
RJ and I exchanged knowing glances, hemmed and hawed. “Well, I don’t know, we weren’t really planning on it. I mean…she’s not really adventurous or rugged or anything. It might be too cold for her.”
“Come on, I think she’ll like it!”
And so we drove our white, prissy puppy up the mountain, and we brought the only sweater we could find for her, which happened to be a purple and pink cheerleader sweater. Because, bring it on! And, what if she gets cold?? But you know what, it’s alright, we’d been meaning to introduce Daisy to the snow anyways just for kicks. If anything, one of us could stay in the car with her while everyone else hikes.
As we led Daisy through the slush towards the trail head, her initial reaction was, “What the hell??” (excuse her, she has a bit of a potty mouth), and she did that thing she does in the rain where she pathetically lifts one delicate paw in disgust at having to touch such nasty, cold wetness.
But as we continued away from the gray slush, away from the cars and the main road, through the white snowy blanket that covered the trail and the trees, into stillness, around that tree that I peed behind (I mean, what??), across the freezing stream, and up the mountain, the strangest and most beautiful thing happened.
It was as though with every step, some primal beast deep within my sweet, delicate, prissy dog was awakened. And there, in the snow in Big Bear, Daisy remembered: she is a wild-haired beast of an animal.
If you know RJ and I, you know we are obsessed with our dog. But as we watched Daisy bravely run ahead of her “pack” and forge her own path through a foot of snow, or leap from rock to rock and across a stream of ice cold running water, or attempt to scale an icy rock wall on her own accord like ten times, our hearts grew more in love with her, in encountering these brave and courageous parts of our sweet little pup that we never even knew existed.
Yet we wondered afterwards…in all five years that she’s been a part of our family, have we been the ones to stunt her from discovering her full potential? In making the decision for her that things were too hard, and so we just better not let her try? In shielding her from discomfort or failure?
And then I wondered to myself, do I do this with others? With myself?
When RJ and I were first married, I was an older single woman and I already had three years of full-time ministry under my belt. Administratively, I had a groove. I had a system. RJ and I would agree, I was very efficient. I could do in one hour what RJ could do in a day. Same with household responsibilities, like cooking and cleaning.
And so we decided that it was just easier (and faster) for the two of us if I just took it all on myself.
I don’t want you to think that RJ was like, “Sah-weet! I’m just going to sit back and game all day while you do all the work!” I insisted. I thought I was serving him in doing so. And so I failed to give him the opportunity to grow in these areas.
Years later, when I would go back to graduate school, I was forced to slowly relinquish control and responsibility over these administrative and household domains. When I began working in Los Angeles county full-time, I had to give up these responsibilities almost completely.
And you know what?
We didn’t sink.
RJ took over. And in my absence, he grew in his weaknesses.
And he has become an RJ that I never knew could possibly exist.
Sure, initially we had some issues with missing deadlines (and subsequent arguments), and it would take a long time to complete tasks that previously could be finished in 1/10th of the time. Sure, we had a lot of pasta and french fries in the beginning, and we would binge wash weeks of laundry once a month and the bathroom wasn’t cleaned for months.
But he found his groove. He found his system. And in the discomfort of unfamiliarity, and working and stumbling through his weaknesses, he grew in such a way that I never could have ever imagined or given him credit for.
I just had to get out of the way.
Just like we had to get out of Daisy’s way.
I’d like to think that it’s not for reasons like not believing the other has it in them that we get in the way of others’ growth. Many times, I think there are valid and truly considerate reasons, such as not wanting the other to have to struggle when you can do the job so easily. Wanting to serve the other person. Not wanting the other to have to experience discomfort or failure. Wanting to protect the other from harm, disappointment, or rejection. And, from a more churched perspective, “covering others’ weaknesses with one’s strengths.” These are good-intentioned and well-meaning reasons.
But what if we are actually doing more harm than good? What if we are getting in the way of allowing others to grow to their fullest potential?
What if we are getting in the way of self-actualization?
The hardest thing is to watch someone (or some pup) you love struggle and wrestle through hardship and discomfort, especially if there is something you can do to protect or “save” them from it. But maybe in doing so, we rob them of the experience of wrestling, persevering, conquering, and then moving confidently in their world. Maybe in the process, we keep them from fully knowing who they are and fully knowing what they are capable of.
Note to self for when we have kids: Get out of the way, Alice.
Get out of the way, and watch them flourish.
Can you relate? Or is this just crazy talk from a crazy dog lady?