Once again, the Holy Spirit has used repetition – a strategy that He knows (oh-so-well) captures my attention. This time, the theme of today’s lesson with Beth Moore – in her Entrusted Study – is so relevant to an article I read last night of an interview between Dr. Marc Bekoff of Psychology Today and Dr. Andrew Root, the author of “The Grace of Dogs: A boy, a Black Lab, and a Father’s Search for the Canine Soul.” ((Yes, immediately after reading the article I purchased – and can’t wait to start reading – the book!!!))
The scripture of focus today was 2nd Timothy 1:8-10, and the part radiating waves through my heart in its relation to the article is bolded –
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.
In his interview with the author of the article, Dr. Root speaks of his quest during the writing of his book to discover an existence of a spiritual relationship between dogs and humankind. He explains “they care so much for us not because of our achievements… but just because we are.” Profound, isn’t it? – As all dog-owners can concur that truth, and THAT truth is the same that exists in the relationships between God and His children.
Having just read that article, I was able to wrap my head around this phenomenal type of love from my Lord with new understanding.
My Tate – whose journey many of you have been following via my social media accounts – was found in a dumpster. Alone, scared, ravenous, and with a skin disease called Sarcoptic Mange. There’s so much more to his story (bits and pieces of which can be found here), but the main point I want to drive home is this: There is nothing that Tate did that caused him to be found in a dumpster. There is nothing that Tate did that caused him to experience such a horrendous start to life. But because of his past, he now walks through life with some very difficult consequences – consequences that are difficult on us, his mama and papa that is. Two of the most difficult challenges resulting from where he was found are his separation anxiety and distrust of people.
In similar ways, we each have our own history – a past filled with times of loneliness, fear, and disease. Many times we may very well believe we even belong – or deserve to be left – in a dumpster. Because we were born into sin, without any cause of our own, and because of the pasts we’ve experienced – some of which is indeed caused by our own doing (the sin within which we were born without cause of our own) and other parts of which were done unto us – we walk through life with some difficult consequences as well. Consequences that are difficult on our Heavenly Father. Difficult, in the sense that they break his heart – just as many of Tate’s “consequences” break mine.
But here’s the deal: God loves us just the same.
Just as nothing Tate ever does will affect the love of the human heart that’s become wrapped around his.
I’m somewhat new to truly wrapping my head around this truth as well, but let me attempt to walk you through it – just as Beth Moore and Dr. Root guided me.
Tate. He makes it difficult to leave – whether for a short time-frame of a few hours, or for vacation. I, myself, begin to feel anxiety rise when I hear his crying – not whining, whining sounds very different – when I hear his crying begin. We’ve tried so many strategies – some of which do deem successful, sometimes… but all-in-all I hate knowing the loneliness he feels when we go away. The fear that sets in. In addition, we have strategies for when he meets new people – rather than immediately growling and lunging toward EVERY single person he encounters, these strategies ALWAYS WORK, for the people he ends up deeming trustworthy… ;-) Just this morning, however, after many attempts of slowly introducing him to a daycare facility that we’d hoped to eventually be able to use for boarding – I cried on my drive home, collapsed on the couch beside my husband when I walked through the door, felt so guilty for potentially causing more trauma, more fear, and more loneliness – and eventually called it quits, as I just couldn’t put my Bubba through that for even one more day. You’d think he’d cause me anger, and although there are some moments of frustration, maybe even bits of anger… overall it’s love – unconditional love – that I continue to feel for this dog that’s “complicated” many of life’s routines. It’s a love that I find too hard to explain, but Dr. Root, Beth Moore, and Paul in the book of 2nd Timothy describe it so well.
My love for Tate is not based on his “achievements or successes,” it’s just because he is – and what he is, is unconditional love for me.
A couple of weeks ago we were at the vet – just Tate and me. Tate had an extremely negative response, a violent response, a response that evoked fear in both the vet and myself. My eyes became instantaneously watery and I said “He’s probably so mad at me right now; I shouldn’t have suggested we do that.” [insert actual, real-life tears now as I recall this recent memory]. Our vet looked at me and said, “No, no. He can’t be mad at you. He’s not able to. You’re his safe place.” This is because Tate’s love for me – a dog’s love for their human – is not based on “achievements or successes” but is “just because we are.”
As Paul writes in those verses of 2nd Timothy, God did not save us – He did not give us a purpose or a higher calling – based on our own “works.” He saved us, gave us a calling, provided us purpose, and continues to love us day-in-and-day-out based on “HIS purpose and grace.”
Beth provides the following definition of “purpose” –
a setting forth, presentation, an exposition, determination, plan, or will. It involves purpose, resolve, and design.
Dr. Root says, in regard to a dog’s purpose – “the dog-human connection can legitimately be described as ‘spiritual’ – as existing not for the sake of gain, but for the unselfish desire to be with and for the other, and to remind us that we are persons worthy of love and able to share love.”
Tate’s love for me is based on his own purpose – it is within his will to LOVE his humans. He is designed to LOVE his humans. And he is DETERMINED to LOVE his humans. Just as… my love for Tate is not based on how many times we go “down” on this rollercoaster of proud and heartbreaking moments. My love for him is based on an innate design to love him and be for him. Just as… God continues to love us, not based on our successes and failures, but based on HIS purpose, plan, will, design, and determination to love us. His love does not waver. His love is who He is. His love for us has nothing to do with who we are, and everything to do with who He is and who He’s always been.
Beth provides the following definition of “grace” –
particularly that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude. A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and inherited favor. Charis [the Greek word for “grace”] stands in direct antithesis to era, works, the two being mutually exclusive. God’s grace affects man’s sinfulness and not only forgives the repentant sinner, but brings joy and thankfulness to him. It changes the individual to a new creation without destroying his individuality.
Dr. Root says, in regard to a dog’s grace – “Dogs are these distinctive creatures who gift us with something our humanity really needs, a sense of acceptance, a sense of empathy, and sense that we, without needing to achieve anything, are loved.”
Tate’s love for me provides me unearned joy, pleasure, gratification, and favor that cannot be described. He gives me grace. He accepts me completely, as I am, without expectation of return but rather because of the goodness – the bounty and benevelence – that he receives from doing so. He gives me grace, because it makes him happy! Just as the nights spent awake brainstorming ways to help him feel safe, and the days spent trying, trying, and trying again and the spoiling of treats and the long walks at the dam and the extended morning snuggles are not based on how well Tate “performed” that day, but rather… because I gain such joy in giving him joy. And just as God… continues to pour kindness, causes of joy & pleasure & gratification, and undeserved acceptance into our lives, for the mere sake of the goodness that it brings him, in doing so!
In a description of his book, “The Grace of Dogs: A boy, a Black Lab, and a Father’s Search for the Canine Soul,” Dr. Root is said to draw “on biology, history, theology, cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds), and paleontology to trace how in our mutual evolution, humans and dogs have so often helped each other to become more fully ourselves.” (I myself can attest to this, and hope to provide more evidence at another time).
As stated in the definition of grace provided above, here again we see that grace evokes change. Grace doesn’t admonish for wrong doings, but rather… in continuing to love, provide joy, and unwaveringly accept those who share grace between one another are changed in the process. Changed – not to become different, but rather changed to become more fully who we are. I can “get” this – I can accept this as truth – because of the earthly evidence I’ve seen in the relationships between my dogs and me. My husband recounts my becoming distraught when our previous dog passed (you can read his story here). I fell apart, as in losing him I lost a big hunk of myself that I didn’t even know, at the time, had been changed because of him. His love changed me. It gave me confidence and courage and strength. Tate’s love, his grace, continues to change me too.
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Today’s Encouragement: With a more practical understanding of God’s purpose and grace – His will to love us, grant us joy, and continually claim us as “His” with pride – I charge us, myself and you together, to accept His love more fully in spite of being undeserving of it. I pray that we’ll take extra moments to see evidence of the reality of His love through the eyes of our pups, as well as through other causes of joy that He’s placed for us on earth for the mere sake of gaining glimpses of insight into Him – and His love for us.