Ten years ago I got the first dog I’d ever had—at least, of my very own. I’d researched various breeds, and had even found a “puppy test” to administer to puppies I was considering buying. I wanted, eventually, to have a fully-grown dog that was really a pleasure to be around—responsive to me, well-trained, all the good stuff. I found the perfect dog for me, took him to obedience school, worked with him and trained him–and he was really a marvelous dog. He died in December, shortly before Christmas.
I’ve recently purchased another dog of the same breed. I gave him the same puppy test, and will begin obedience school with him tomorrow. He reminds me of my students—really cute and sweet one minute, and a total terror the next. He has the potential to be fun, sweet, destructive and incredibly annoying by turns. Last night he kept me up and refused to stop barking, even when squirted in the face repeatedly with a mixture of water and vinegar. If I don’t start training him right away, I will regret ever having bought him, but I know from experience that if I invest consistent time and training, he will be a really super companion.
My students are very much like my puppy—they can be sweet and endearing or absolutely self-centered and obnoxious. If I didn’t know from the experience of my own children, I might be tempted to give up today. But, I do know. I know that if I (and others) keep consistently requiring them to do their best, keep challenging them, keep calling them to account for their foolishness, keep demanding that they conform, they will turn out to be top-notch students, and wonderful human beings. Of course, this is not solely my project—they have really terrific parents, who support and back me up; in fact, all I’m doing is what they have asked me to do, what they’ve entrusted me to do.
So, as with my puppy, when they behave foolishly, I set them down, with my foot on the leash, until they’ve settled themselves and can listen to me. I offer them a reward for recognizing my voice and obeying it. I give them hard things to work on and perfect. And they respond, and grow, and mature, and change—with a big difference: their souls—the things they love and the things they don’t—are being shaped by God as He works through me and all the others who have been placed in their lives for their good and His glory. And hopefully, these “pups” will be free enough of their puppy-ness to be able to offer the world around them the best part of themselves.