This past Saturday was a wonderful day. My second son, Bennett, was baptized into Christ’s church, and we spent the day celebrating with family and friends. With the birth of my first child, I had considered what I wanted for him. After going through all the typical fatherly wants: Super Bowls and National Titles, a good career, a family, I discovered that when I really considered it, I’d be proud of him, and he could have a happy life without any of the worldly things I could think of. Ultimately, what truly mattered, what I truly wanted for him, was what Jesus taught:
“you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Jesus made it pretty clear here: the point of our lives is to love. We must spend our lives learning how to become perfect in love as our lord is perfect so that one day we might join Him for all eternity. In this lifelong journey toward God’s perfection, we have many teachers – some expected, and some unexpected, and in light of recent events, I would like to focus on one of those unexpected teachers in God’s greatest law.
Just a little over a week ago, my sister lost her dearest companion, one she had loved, cared for, defended, sacrificed for, and cherished for the entirety of her adult life. The passing was sudden and unexpected, much like the heart-wrenching grief my sister now endures. Bailey was a great friend, but above all else, like many pets, especially dogs, she was a great teacher of love to my sister.
This may strike many of you as a stretch, or maybe even foolish, but I’d ask that you consider the special relationship a person has with one’s dog. There is a reason why people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome find life much more approachable when they have a companion dog at their side. A dog is non-judgmental. They are patient, kind. They are not envious and do not insist on their own way … at least most of them, and that all certainly applied to Bailey. If those words sounded familiar, it’s because they’re words about love from 1 Corinthians 13.
It is not so much that a dog exudes these qualities of love, but that it serves as a reflection of our own behavior. We can give our love to a dog without risk. There is no threat of mocking, no fear of rejection, and no expectation of living up to some standard. A dog appears happy just because you entered the room, and with that reassurance, we are permitted without any fear of reprisal to share God’s greatest gift – our ability to love.
I can tell you, my sister’s ability to love flourished thanks to Bailey. When my sister was alone in distant parts of the country, Bailey was her comfort. She allowed my sister to focus on caring for her, providing for her, loving her, and not worrying so much about the daily worries that weighed on my sister’s mind. Above all else, Bailey allowed my sister to mother her, and so she was like the training wheels for the most important loving relationship a human being can have – that of parent. And perhaps it is God’s timing that it happened this way, but my sister is only weeks away from becoming a mother for the first time. Of course, she would tell you it’s not her first time, thanks to the love she poured on Bailey. I know it will be difficult for my sister, as it is difficult for anyone who has lost a great love in their lives, and I pray that God uses this loss for good in my sister’s life.
All of this is not meant to compare our losses and weigh them as if the merit of the subject is what determines the depth and extent of the hurt we feel at their passing. The pain we feel is not a reflection of the subject, but of the love we had that has now been ripped away from us. It is only in turning our hearts and minds to the source of that love, and of all love, that we can begin to recover and make sense of our lives here on Earth. God is love (1 John 4:8), and we experience great pain when great love leaves us. Therefore, we experience great pain when we separate ourselves from God. So, the source of true joy, and what I want most for my boys as I look at their lives before them, is also our way out of darkness, hurt, despair, loneliness, and all the other ills that plague us.
Love your neighbor.