This dog is not just pulling on the leash but is seemingly in a constant state of throat-crushing lunging. I can’t imagine why he would continue to perpetuate what must be an uncomfortable pressure on his neck. You would think that feeling the backward pull of the leash would prompt the dog to take things a bit slower.
But research shows just the opposite. Dogs have a powerful inborn natural instinct to respond to pressure by trying to get away from it. You pull back. They lean away even harder. It’s even got a name. It’s called Oppositional Reflex. It’s well documented, and even an essential part of how police dogs are trained.
When they are fixed on a target to take down, the handler encourages them to start pressing forward, but continues to hold them back. This juxtaposition of forces turns on something in the doggy brain that results in an amazing burst of power when the leash is released.
Some kids have a similar oppositional reflex. Their faith is in crisis, and they “strain at the leash” of their parents. My life would be so different, they muse, if only they wouldn’t hold me back. They felt caged in, constrained, leashed by all the rules and beliefs. Life would be just grand, they believe, if their parents would just let go.
I was certain that if I were in control of my own life, it would be so much better. I would make far superior choices. Then I became an adult. I moved away. And suddenly . . . there was no leash. I truly could do whatever I wanted.
At first, it was invigorating. Like a puppy free to chase down every smell and idea he’s found, I tried out many lifestyles and world philosophies, practically giddy at the smorgasbord of choices. But eventually, one by one, each shiny new idea was discovered to be a little lackluster. There were blemishes in so many of the fruits I had plucked. But until I had been released to go and investigate these things on my own, I simply couldn’t “hear” that they might be flawed.
You may have an adult child whose entire focus is all about how you are holding him back. It may actually define him. He may truly believe that all the bad things in his life are due to you and your rules.
It may be time to drop the leash.
Just as God often allows us, His children, room to experience the repercussions of our choices, we may need to allow the same for our children. But don’t expect a quick fix. It can be a long wait while your child, now free of constraint, runs delightedly off to explore.
I was an atheist for 13 long years before I was even able to consider a different worldview. But eventually, all the things that had been so enticing and appealing to me had been discovered, thoroughly tried, and found wanted. Then . . . when I finally did come to faith, it was a faith that was mine. I knew why I knew what I knew.
Had I never gone off exploring, I doubt I would ever have really understood the falseness of those other views, and conversely, the truth in Jesus.
What about you?
Do you think your child believes you are the cause of all his life’s discomfort? Do you trust that the things he wants to explore will be empty and false? Is it time to let him explore them?