"Happiness is a warm puppy," said Charlie Brown, and he was right. There is nothing much nicer than going for a walk with your 14-year-old puppy at your side and a seven-week-old one tucked inside your jacket. In May, God gave us a gift named Barkley, a tiny version of our big yellow lab. God had a purpose in giving him to us, making it so possible to obtain a dog we could never afford (whether in time or money, which I am still learning much about).
Barkley is a mirror.
God wanted me to see myself better, so he gave me a mirror image of myself in a little puppy. I'm not saying I am cute or have floppy ears, though that may be true. Here are a few of the things I see of myself in Barkley:
1. I need an owner. Barkley is nine months old now, and after several episodes that involved a chewed computer cord, battles with his older sister, random sneakiness and (thank goodness) a visit to the vet's knife that definitely settled him down, we are starting to like him again. It's a good thing, because he needs us. Left on his own, he would devour everything that even remotely resembles food, until he ate something that killed him.
There is something in me that is equally and willfully self-destructive. 'The wages of sin is death," says Paul, but I seem quite willing to volunteer for free when it comes to things that hurt me and those around me. Selfishness. Bitterness. Self-pity. Obsession. Gluttony. At least I think I'm working for free, but I can't avoid payment: these things lead in the direction of death, and their consequences cannot be circumvented.
I need someone to stop me on my self-destructive path. Though it goes against everything in me that is human, I need someone to own me, take responsibility for me, lead me. Barkley doesn't think he needs someone like that in his life, but I know he is wrong. Whenever I think the same as Barkley, I'm wrong too. I'm wired to have an owner.
2. I am happiest when I give in. Barkley is obsessed with a few things in his world: his dog dish, the towel we dry him with, and the ocean that makes him wet. We have tried many things, but he must chew his dog dish until we remove it, he is convinced that the towel is his one and only girlfriend, and when he gets within scent of the ocean he could drag a logging truck to it on his leash. These things frustrate me a great deal, and I often think about how much happier he (and I) could be if he would just chill, bury his obsessions and do what I want him to do.
And then I think how much happier I could be. Or how much happier God could be with me. How blessed he would be if I just gave in.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I do a lot for that little dog. My Father in heaven does infinitely more for me, and half the time I don't even wag my tail. I have the opportunity to bless him, please him, bring him joy, simply by giving in to him. It's such a win-win situation, because I'm happiest then too. But I'm so often a lose-lose loser.
3. Often, I give in on the outside but I'm still willful inside. Barkley occasionally responds with a "humph" that says, "I'll give in for now, but you haven't heard the last from me." It's like the little boy who is told repeatedly to sit down and finally does so, muttering, "I'm sitting down on the outside, but on the inside I'm still standing up!"
I guess this practice will do for dogs, but God is not satisfied with outward obedience. Check out the Sermon on the Mount:
- You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder...' But I tell you that anyone who is angry...
- You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully...
- You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies...
4. We can really enjoy ourselves together. Lately, because I am trying to get/stay in shape for a trek in the Himalayas, I have been hoofing it up the mountain next door on a regular basis, and Barkley loves it (our older dog Keeah sadly has to stay at home). Like any lab, he goes about four times as far as I do, constantly running ahead or abroad and then back again to make sure I am not lost. By the time we get home, we are usually wet, dirty and delightfully tired. We earned it, and can pant contentedly with a wide grin on our faces. Barkley is so much better behaved after a good run, especially if it involved water and chasing sticks.
This is why ministry is such a great thing. "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be," said Jesus (John 12:26). I love going where God is at work and joining him there, being part of it, watching him do what only he can do. We get along so well in those times, and the reward proves to be worth the effort and the muck. I am better behaved. In fact, I worry a bit about those spaces of time in which I am not so involved with what God is doing. Like David who stayed home from war one spring, those are the times I am prone to get into trouble. My dog is a walk junkie. I'm a ministry junkie.
Like my dog, I need to learn that life is not all long treks and stuff to chase. "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
- a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."
God, may I learn to seek you out in every season of life, whether working at your side or wondering where you are. You created me to glorify you and enjoy you forever, not just in the thrill of ministry but in the chill of down times. Maybe that is what is ahead for me, and I pray that I will be found as content to snooze at your feet as this little dog is right now. May we enjoy one another.
And thanks for the puppy.