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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of dogs and children and kingdoms. . .

It’s the dog days of summer and “Rex-the-Wonder-Dog” has come for his annual visit. Rex’s summer care was originally my younger daughter’s job and when she left for college I let him keep coming because he’s such a marvelous animal. Last night, he and I watched a fantastic special on PBS called Through a Dog’s Eyes. The program is about service dogs and is both fascinating and inspiring.

The creator of the film, Jennifer Arnold, clearly loves dogs, and she loves people enough to breed, train and match dogs with children and adults who need service animals. The skills the dogs can learn, and the intuition they exhibit with their owners, is phenomenal.  The publicity for the show claims it will make you see your own dog in a whole new way, and, while Rex is only my dog for a couple of weeks, after watching it, I have to acknowledge some of his more “spiritual” qualities.

First I must commend his UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Every day when I return from work I am greeted with joy. When I take the garbage out and return in 5 minutes, I get the same greeting. I feel like the most important person in the world when I walk through the door. I have done nothing to deserve this joyous welcome but he gives it unsparingly, with his whole being.

Another admirable Rex quality is a FORGIVING HEART. Yesterday I sent him away with a loud and annoyed voice as I was getting ready for work. It was clear as he departed that I had really hurt his feelings. Yet, when I emerged, clean and dressed, he greeted me as if I’d never spoken harshly to him at all.

Rex is also totally AUTHENTIC. He asks for exactly what he wants: scratching on the kitchen wall means “my bowl is empty”, scratching on the door means “I need to relieve myself” and head-butting means “Hey, I need a little attention here!” When he has been on the couch he acts guilty – truly a dog without guile.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with children or faith.  Well, children also love us unconditionally, forgive us when we fail them and are totally authentic. Studies have shown that children from even the worst possible homes still love their parents. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10) I think the kingdom of God is far simpler than we "mature Christians" want it to be. If children get it, then what makes it difficult must be something within us, and not part of the kingdom itself. Is it possible that we complicate things just to make ourselves more important in the equation?

Maybe what we really need to do to be the children Jesus describes is to stop looking at ourselves, and our needs, and focus on the good and gracious giver of all. When I consider everything that God has done for me,  I am overcome with wonder. And I think that’s what goes on in Rex’s mind when he looks at me: “She feeds me.  She opens that door – I love her!”  Likewise, children look at adults and are always aware of everything we can do that they can’t – “She can drive a car! She can swim! She knows when I’m getting into something I shouldn’t!” – and they love us, enough to want to be us.

Although I only get Rex for two weeks a year, and my own children are grown, I get to spend time with children nearly every day.  With their unconditional love they give me a little window into the kingdom, and I am truly blessed!  And - in case the jury is still out for you - I think that all dogs DO go to heaven!

1 comment:

Beth Schrader said...

That PBS special was amazing. It touched me deeply. Julie, might you be becoming a dog person?

I have always thought the way dogs act toward their people is very similar to a child's love for parents...and ideally how our love for God could be. Thank you for expressing it so eloquently.