I am not a dog person, never have been and probably never will be. But still, I think that at some point in the future I’m going to get a dog. Not soon, mind you – so don’t anyone dare tell this to the kids. They would love one, but right now, I suspect that the responsibility of a dog added to everything else would tip me over the edge. Whenever the kids ask for a dog, I tell them we had a baby instead.
Why no dog? They’re so darn high maintenance! Now cats, you can leave town for a couple of weeks and they’ll just eat their biscuits, or whatever they catch in the field, ours at least will.
But dogs, you have to do so much work, and for all that work they’re so UNPRODUCTIVE.
Totally not a dog a person.
But down the track I think for me getting a dog could be a spiritual practice; a small act of rebellion to push back against my personal brand of neurosis that idolises productivity, control, and neatness.
In Ignatian spirituality these small acts of rebellion are called agere contra – literally “acting against”. They’re the things you intentionally do to go against your natural tendencies. I’ve been doing it for a while, but I first heard the term here.
It’s the same reasoning behind giving up stuff for Lent: if my natural tendency is towards social media and chocolate, I might choose to give those up for a period to help push me towards deeper connection with self, community, and God. But this isn’t just about giving up things I like in pursuit of some moralistic asceticism, they’re a positive act specifically chosen to foster personal growth.
The same idea is behind the advice in Romans 12 about how to handle a situation when someone has hurt you, and your natural tendency is to hurt them back (or at the least shame them a little).
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.Romans 12:20-21 (The Message)
If you’re really struggling to forgive a person, if the feelings just aren’t budging, then do something kind, do something generous towards them. Send them an anonymous gift! Why anonymous? Because you’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for you.
And that’s a key idea here. The reason that you’re making these small acts of rebellion is to shift something inside of you. You’re not rebelling against other people, or against the system; you’re consciously rebelling against your ingrained system of thinking.
Embodied acts help change your thinking, and changed thinking leads to a changed life.
For now, I am not getting a dog. But in an effort to push back against some of my unhealthy tendencies I’m going to try out a few different small acts of rebellion. Things like…
- taking a quick nap after lunch rather than getting straight to work so I can GET STUFF DONE while the baby sleeps. Yes, good news, napping can be a spiritual practice! Read more of my thoughts on that here.
- taking the kids to school late. Well, not late late after the second bell, but perhaps after the first bell. I’m going to have to prepare them for that one.
- not correcting tpying errors.
- watching a movie in the middle of the day. It’s going to have to be Netflix at home since it’ll have to fit into the little one’s naptime on my day off, but mentally I am already having to justify spending my Sabbath time on this. Yes, I know what a Sabbath is, but I like my rest times to also be productive! 🙄
- not straightening the door mat at the entrance to preschool. Every single time, I can’t help myself! What if someone slipped? … What if it wasn’t my responsibility?!
While some of this stuff doesn’t sound all that spiritual, any ordinary activity can become a spiritual practice if it leads you closer to God.
What about you? The first step is to activate some self-awareness and identify some of your own unhealthy tendencies, and then consider what your own small acts of rebellion might be.
If you go and get yourself a dog, maybe could my kids come and play with it so they quit nagging me about getting their own?