People always tell me I must feel pretty safe with a big dog around. Not really....
It's not that I don't think my dog would protect me; I know that she would in a heartbeat. In fact, she has had a couple of opportunities just in the past week or so to demonstrate just how naturally she jumps between me and any perceived threat (when a neighbor dog jumped the fence and came at us and when a friendly neighbor dog, one who likes both of us, tried to walk around her and get to me). Clearly, this dog is going to disregard her own well-being for the sake of mine.
And that's the problem.
Some people get a dog, particularly a big dog, just to feel safe. I agonize over all the terrible things that could happen in this world to my dog.
When I think about the possibility of someone breaking into my house or threatening my property, my first response is to ache over my dog. Because I know that she is instinctively going to put herself between me and any danger. And I know that her fierce love won't matter a single bit after the first bullet or blow to the head. I think about what someone intent on doing harm to me would do to her to get to me, and I grieve. My flesh can take it, but do not hurt my dog.
When I think about perhaps a catastrophe - a tornado or a fire or something of the sort - I am aware that her first instinct is not going to be to run out; it's going to be run back in. Even if I'm gone, even if she watched me leave, I know that this dog is going to search everywhere in a crumbling house for me, and I know that it would cost her her own life. And sometimes, I wonder if there's any way to teach her something different. I wonder if I could teach her to run, because I'd rather have a dog that I have to find than one I have to bury.
When I think about the times that I have been sick or recovering from one thing or another, I think about how she lays right next to me, bringing her toys and laying them on the bed next to my pillow, begging to play. And even in the midst of my own debilitating illness or severe pain (I've had a major surgery with her and a pretty serious injury), all I can think about is how guilty I feel for not playing with her the way we always do, for not being able to get up and go for a walk, for not crawling outside to throw some frisbees for her. It's so hard for me to have this good friend in moments when I can't be a good friend.
And I know this dog's heart. I know everything about her. I know how it scares her to encounter something new, how she slows her pace when she hears a big truck or a school bus, until she locates the source of her anxiety. I know what excites her, how she's always looking for a squirrel or a bunny to chase, another dog to greet. I know that she knows all of the neighborhood dogs by name, because I do, too, and I greet them by name every morning. (She got loose one day, and I asked her if she wanted to visit "Cocoa"'s house, and she ran straight to this other dog's gate, where I trapped her in the yard until I could get a leash to bring her home.) I know that she's got a memory like an elephant - she knows every exact spot on our walk where she has ever seen a cat, a bunny, a squirrel, a neighbor, a stray piece of food, an interesting bug. She looks excitedly every day, hoping to see these things again, whether it's been two days or two months since there's actually been anything there. I know how if you say anything that sounds like "frisbee" in my house, you have to answer to my dog, whose response is always a resounding "YES," even if there wasn't a question.
I say all of this because I want you to know the depth of the love that I have for this dog. People think I must feel safe with this big dog around, but the truth is that she makes me ache more than anything. I love her so much, and I know all the things that lurk in this world that make her hurt or that break her heart. I know that sometimes, I make her hurt or break her heart. I know the love that she has for me, and I can't wrap my head around how effortlessly she seems to disregard her own life for mine.
And I ache. The love that I have for this dog makes me physically ache, one tender heart to another.
By now, if you've made it this far, you're probably wondering why I have written so many words about my love for my dog, especially when I have written consistently for something like seven years about theology. Ready? Here's why:
Because I claim that this is the kind of love that I have for Jesus, but in truth, it's nowhere close. Jesus in this broken world does not make my heart ache anywhere near the way my dog in this broken world does, even though He loves me with an even greater love. All the things about this dog that make my love for her a physical ache, I take for granted in Jesus.
And most of the time, I simply feel safer having Him around.