A few weeks ago, I was walking my dog as we do most days. Walking her is one of my favorite things to do, both because I get to enjoy some time with her doing something that makes us both happy and because it’s a consistent motivation to make sure I’m outside for at least a little while every day.
This particular evening, however, things took a scary turn.
As we were walking, I heard the sound of motors coming from what I thought was the nearby neighborhood. The sound kept getting closer and closer, and I finally turned to see two guys coming up behind me on four-wheelers. The first one passed me without incident, but as the second started to pass me, I realized that it wasn’t aimed straight on the path but was coming towards us at an angle – and by the time I noticed the direction it was going, the four-wheeler was just inches away from my dog, and was not slowing down.
As a single 30-something, I admit to being more attached to my dog than I probably should be, but she’s my baby right now. (Note: I do not consider dogs equal to children, at all, but my dog *is* important to me.) I got her when she was around a year old, after she had been found as a stray. Once I brought her home, it took us both a little bit of time to warm up to each other – I had never gotten a dog that wasn’t a puppy before, and she needed to get used to having a real home and security. Now, eight years later, she has helped me get through lots of tough times, and she is one of the most precious things to me. I hate the thought of losing her, though that’s pretty much part of the agreement when you get a pet. (Despite my pleadings to God to let her live as long as me, I don’t think he’s going to say yes.)
You might be able to imagine, then, what was going through my mind when I saw that she was about to be hit by that four-wheeler. I was sure, when I lost sight of her as it reached her, that my dog was going to be mangled at best when it came to a stop. To my surprise, she came right out from under the four-wheeler on her own, shaking, scared, and covered in dirt, but still alive. It took me a few moments to check her over as I was in shock at what had just happened, and to see that somehow she had no obvious damage anywhere. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she appeared fine, though very shaken.
After a precautionary trip to the emergency vet, where they looked her over and gave her the diagnosis of being a very lucky pup, we were back home and the worst was over. I kept a close eye on her throughout the weekend, but by the next morning you wouldn’t have known anything had happened to her. I couldn’t understand how she had made it out without a scratch, but obviously God had arranged the situation just so perfectly so that she didn’t have any injuries and I didn’t have to lose her yet. I’m sure that if any number of factors were just slightly different in that moment or anything had been off by just an inch in any direction, things would have turned out much differently.
You would think I would have been able to stay in that place of gratitude for the gift she is to me after knowing it all could have gone so much worse, but (much like the Israelites, with whom I identify more often and more deeply than I’d like to) it didn’t take me long to start complaining to God that she would, eventually, die. The past year especially has been tough, and having my dog around has helped keep me sane. The more I appreciate the joy and peace she brings me, though, the more I know how much it will hurt when she dies. Sometimes I wonder, if God showed up and asked me to let go of her right now, would I willingly say yes to him? If I did say yes, would I resent him for taking one of my biggest joys? What if it were one of my family members, instead of just my dog? Could I still love God as much if he took one of them away suddenly?
A couple of days later, the Gospel reading included the lines from Matthew:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
Ok, God, I hear you.
My dog isn’t the same as a human family member, of course, but I do have to make sure that I’m not loving her – or anyone/anything – more than I should. I need to make sure she and anything else in my life isn’t placed higher than God at any given moment – even things that are good and are blessings from God. I always have to check myself to make sure that my relationship with him is the most central thing in my life, even if he’s saying no to a deep desire of my heart. I imagine that if I am someday blessed with a husband and children, it will be many times harder to keep my relationship with God in perspective. Without him, I am and have nothing.
God has given me everything I have, and has been there for me in my sorrows, and will always be there. I have to remind myself that Jesus is all I ever truly need. We all have sorrows we’ve experienced, or are experiencing – maybe it’s not the death of a family member, but maybe it’s a chronic painful illness, or a long-held dream that is now impossible – and in the midst of those times it’s important to remember to place God first, and remember that he works all things to our good, even the worst things that make the least sense.
It can be easy to take God’s presence for granted when we have other great relationships in our lives. When something bad happens to someone we care about, it’s easy to blame God and question him, even to lose faith. But those are the moments we have to cling to God even tighter, especially when we want to push him away.
Being a Christian (and a human) means we’re guaranteed to have crosses, to feel heartache, to say painful goodbyes. Being a follower of Jesus means we have the tools to get through this life, the heartaches, the suffering. Sometimes that tool is the very cross we’re asked to carry – even if that cross is the loss of something we hold so dear, something that hurts so much to give up or to say goodbye to that it seems impossible we’ll ever be ok again. But Jesus has promised that he is there in those moments to hold us up when we can’t hold ourselves up. We just need to be willing to let him.