I’ve been putting it off, but it’s time to write my most difficult article so far. Our faithful friend died last week. Jack the dog now lies buried in the garden. Most of our friends know, but I apologise if this comes as a shock to you – and especially your children who loved him so much.
Dog-lovers will connect with our grief. Perhaps others will not. All I can say is that this is probably the most painful event our family has suffered in 13 years. I’m not going to go into the events of last week (my heart is very heavy as I write this), but instead I’d like to focus on three lessons Jack taught us.
- Unconditional Love. Jack’s affection for us was the same day after day. Nothing changed in his attitude from puppyhood to the end of his life. Grumpy-Malcolm got a lick, as did happy-Malcolm. Jack’s dash to the door to greet me, tail wagging, was a daily reminder of the unconditional love of God. His feelings for me never change: “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NIV11). What do you do to remind yourself daily that God loves you?
- Edifying Companionship. Dogs need walking, and Jack was no exception. Penny & I shared the duties. Some days I didn’t want to walk him. I was tired, the weather was bad, football was on the television. But the pleading eyes, whining and fear of ‘accidents’ in the house drove me out to the woods for a walk. Once there, what happened? I found myself praying. I do not exaggerate when I say that Jack has had a more profound practical impact on my prayer-life than any other single factor these last 13 years. His companionship called me closer to God. We need friends like that, don’t we? “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16 NIV11) Who do you have in your life that draws you to the Divine?
- Inspiring Loyalty. In some ways we did very little for this dog. He got walked, fed and played with. Hardly a long list. Yet he rewarded us with tremendous loyalty. He forgave us when we forgot to feed him. He sat patiently in the car as we drove long distances to visit relatives. He kept us company when we were sad, ill or angry. No wonder we felt loyal to him. In the latter part of his life he walked slowly, became incontinent in the house and barked at imaginary intruders. We forgave him, we were patient with him and we kept him company in his difficult times. Quid pro quo. God’s desire is for all of us to have friendships like that. The church can be a loyalty network. All we need to do is respond with gratitude to the love shown us. And even if you’ve not noticed much love recently, at least reflect on God’s love for you, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2 NIV11)