There is much to be learned from animals, and I often find myself humbled by the lessons they inadvertently teach me. Growing up with pets and living most of my life around animals, I've learned much about innocence, dependency, responsibility, love and friendship. Today I want to share several things that my dogs have taught me about God and my relationship with Him.
First, let's have an introduction.
Together these two make quite the duo and are one of my very favorite things in the world. They absolutely love peanut butter and have a knack for always knowing when my mom is cutting up chicken in the kitchen. They are fun to be around and, as I've discovered through the years, full of love and lessons about my relationship with God.
I. Where You go I'll go, where You stay I'll stay.
'Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.'
There are two specific interactions that happen between me and my dogs that remind me of the desire we should have to be close to the Lord:
Scooter: Whenever I leave the room for too long, Scooter goes on a house-wide search to find me, checking through every open door to discover where I might be. He is relentless in his search and doesn't give up until he finds me. He loves to be with me and can't stand to not be in the room together.
Walker: When it's time to go to sleep, Walker always curls up pressed against my stomach. Every single night. It absolutely melts my heart. If I move and create empty space between us, Walker will get up and move to wherever I have gone, once again nuzzling up against me in order to go to sleep.
These actions by my dogs convicted me: I should have the same — if not greater — desire to be near God as my dogs have to be near me. To be super honest, I don't currently have that desire, but Scooter and Walker have shown me what it looks like. There is absolutely no shame in praying, "God, help me want to want You more." On the contrary, it's actually one of my favorite prayers.
So what does it look like to have that sort of desire for closeness with the Lord?
As my pups have taught me, it's looking for God when you can't find Him or when you feel like He's not present (because He always is present — He'll never leave us). Ask Him to show you where He is in your current situation. Or it's going where He goes and moving when He moves for the sake of staying close to Him.
II. Trusting that God Will Do What He says He will Do.
Sometimes the three of us are hanging out downstairs and I have to grab something from upstairs. In light of the previous anecdotes, one might expect my dogs to follow me up the stairs and then back down again, which is exactly what they do unless I tell them to stay put and that I'll come back. Even then, I usually have to hurry on my errand because if I take too long they'll come searching for me. That means that I will have to do exactly what I said I would do — return — and they have to trust that I will.
I consider what Scooter might be thinking in those moments, and this is what I imagine:
She's leaving the room…but she put her hand up. I think that means that I need to stay here. But she's leaving but she also told me to stay here but I just want to be near her.
When I come back into the room, all of the seemingly contradicting things going on in Scooter's conflicted mind are suddenly true: I did leave the room, I did tell him to stay and I did come back. He gets to be near me once again. I did all that for his sake, to spare him the use of his arthritis-prone hips and to prevent unnecessary energy expenditure.
But he doesn't know that. If I could explain it to him I would. He just can't understand.
Maybe God is like that with us sometimes because, in the same way, I have to trust that the Lord is exactly who He says He is and doing exactly what He said He would do, even if it doesn’t make sense in the moment, even if it seems to contradict other things that He has said, even if I don't understand why. I also have to trust, though, that in an instant it will all come to fruition when He says so.
Maybe I’ll never understand why things happen the way they do, but that’s not the point. Once I come back into the room, Scooter is no longer conflicted or wondering why I left in the first place; he’s just excited that I’ve returned.
III. I am Loved Just because I Exist.
And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' Matthew 3:17
I love my dogs so much just for being the way they are. Before they have done anything — before they've done something cute or silly or sweet — I love them. I feel like there are no words to adequately represent just how much I love them, and I know there is no way to communicate that to them (I've also heard this is what parenthood is like, ha). I can only do the best I can: talking to them, giving them food and toys, letting them sleep in my bed, showering them with affection and so on.
This is only a glimpse of how much our Father loves us: so much that we cannot fully understand, so much that He adorns us — His beloved children — with gifts, intimate moments and reminders of His love in an attempt to demonstrate the love He has for us. The other side of this, too, is that He loves us just for who we are, before we've done any faithful (or unfaithful) thing, before we've told anybody about Him, before we've read our Bible. He loves us exactly the way He created us. In Matthew 3:17 God said about Jesus, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." This was BEFORE Jesus's ministry had started, before he began preaching in temple courts and revealing the Kingdom of Heaven to the earth. This is SO important to internalize, too, because it will quite literally change the way we live, the outlook we have on God, the way we love others and the way we love ourselves. Ask God to show you what He loves about you. Ask God to help you remember that He loves you just for being.
God loved Jesus just as He was. I love my dogs just as they are. God loves us just as we are.
IV. Trusting that God is a Good Father.
Whenever I head towards the kitchen there's a pretty high chance that I'll hear the sound of paws following suit. Like many dogs, mine hang around the kitchen in hopes of a morsel of food falling to the ground that they can quickly consume. Or maybe, if they're lucky, they'll receive a bite of human food just for being around and being cute (like I said above…showering them with affection and treats and such).
When I grab chocolate, grapes, raisins or something else that could harm a dog, they still beg for a bite. They don't know that these foods are incredibly toxic to them and could potentially lead to death. They don't know that I love them too much to give them something that's bad from them. From their perspective, I'm just withholding something from them that they want. The reality is, though, that I'm being a good dog owner: I'm keeping them safe and healthy. I'm not allowing them to consume something that is harmful to them.
God does the same thing with us. Things that we desire may be withheld from us simply because they would not be good for us, and the Lord loves us too much to allow us to have something that's bad for us. It's one of the things that make Him such a good Father. Now, we have the freedom to go crazy and do whatever we want whenever we'd like, but it would be wholly counterproductive for us to do so and could potentially end up causing more damage than good. There are real, practical implications to our actions, after all.
Here's an example. At the start of my last week in Botswana I grew incredibly nervous and anxious. I knew that I would soon be on a flight home, and I knew that I was far from ready to say goodbye to the bush. I was greatly tempted to stay, to miss my flight and to not go home. What I would do after, I had no idea. Part of me was hoping that God would show up and tell me to stay (then I could blame that bad decision on Him instead of taking responsibility for it, yikes). I also knew, however, that the decision to stay would practically alter the trajectory of my life: it would mean flaking on an internship at the Georgia Aquarium, not fulfilling academic requirements for my full-ride at UNC Charlotte and driving a wedge of distrust between myself and those who were closest to me. All in all, it wouldn't have been great. Even though that's what I thought I wanted in the moment, lack of support from God actually helped keep me faithful and grounded.
If you ever find yourself in a place in which you don't understand why you're not receiving something from the Lord, try considering the possibility that it wouldn't be healthy for you. Go as far as asking the Lord to bring up ways that it wouldn't be healthy for you and for your growth in discipleship.
V. Treasuring Time with God.
If it's not evident by now, I love my dogs. Just as much as they love being around me, I love being around them. Even as I type, I'm warmed knowing that they are lying on the floor behind me. Though this is a very daily interaction, I don't treasure it any less. I actually look forward to the times that we all just sit in the same room just because we like being around each other. There are times, however, when I have more intimate moments with each of my dogs. Though he usually sprawls out on his side of the bed, Scooter occasionally snuggles as close as he can to me. In that moment I usually stop whatever I'm doing for the sake of soaking up and cherishing every moment with him.
Though these intimate encounters happen less frequently, they don't mean any more to me than the daily interactions I have with my dogs. I simply appreciate them differently. In the same way, we should stray from sitting around waiting for big life-changing encounters with the Lord and grow more in an appreciation of our everyday interactions with Him. Intimate encounters are necessary and good and essential to our growth in relationship with Him, but they don't happen all the time. We shouldn't try to expect them or force them or chase a feeling. The daily moments we spend with God are just as important and just as necessary and good and essential.
Daily moments with God take more intentionality on our part. It allows us to be more aware of His presence in every moment of every day. It helps us grow with Him. I'm trying to grow in this, myself. It's so easy for me to get caught up in school work, research projects, working out and so many other things that I miss opportunities to spend little moments with God. If you don't know what little moments with God look like for you, take some time to ask Him now. I just did, and I felt like something that could be helpful in increasing my awareness of His presence on a daily basis in the midst of everything I'm doing is to dedicate all that I do to Him with a quick prayer: "God, I dedicate this to you." Before school work, applications, research, writing, photography, work, whatever, I am going to try to start it with "God, I dedicate this to you."
I am so humbled by the things that my dogs have taught me about being a follower of Jesus and a child of God. They have made relevant topics that had yet to click with me. I'm in awe of God's desire to speak through us in so many different ways, including loved ones and our passions. This is also a reminder to not put God and the ways He speaks to us in a box. Writing this presented such conviction for me about ways that I've not been trusting the Lord fully and not treasuring daily time spent with Him and so many other things. I hope it has spoken to you in a similar way.
As always, feel free to share your thoughts and questions below. :)
1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."