Stella Is My Teacher
This is probably disturbing to theologians and apologists, but it makes sense to me. When I struggle with how to relate personally to Christ, I think of the way my dog relates to me. And when I wonder how God feels about me, I think about how I feel about my dog.
Dogs treat their people the way we’re supposed to treat God. And we respond to dogs in a way that teaches us how God responds to us.
True Contrition for Sins
The first lesson we learn from dogs is how to be contrite. How to truly feel bad for offending God. Just watch.
Even before we speak, dogs who’ve gotten into the trash begin their displays of contrition. Some dogs howl in repentance. Some hang their heads and look at us out of the tops of their eye sockets. Others slide.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
God knows that our nature leads us into sin. He knows that the world offers many temptations. He wants us to avoid sin, just as we want our dogs to stay out of the trash. Jesus taught us to pray that our Father “lead us not into temptation,” and I suspect that if our dogs could talk, they’d ask us to put the trashcan behind a latched door.
But, still, we get into the trash. When we do, we should feel as bad as the sliding dog feels. If we feel as bad as that dog, or as bad as Peter did after denying Jesus three times, God will have mercy on us.
As dog owners, assuming we’re humane and loving people, we feel what God must feel towards us when get into the trash.
When we open the door and see the trash littering the kitchen floor (and there’s always coffee grounds and something syrupy), we feel the anger well up. But the moment we see our pup’s sad remorse expressed with drooping head and inverted tail, we relent. Our wrath turns instantly to affection. We immediately wish our beloved dog didn’t feel so bad. Our words say, “what did you do?” but our inflection says, “I have never loved you more.”
Scripture and tradition teach us that God feels the same way when we sin and show remorse. He can’t hate us for falling to temptation any more than we can hate our dogs for getting into the trash.
Don’t you realize how patient he is being with you: Or don’t you care? Can’t you see that he has been waiting all this time without punishing you, to give you time to turn from your sin? His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.
When you think you’ve been so bad that God cannot forgive you, remember how you feel when your dog, whom you love, gets into the trash.
Joy of Reunion
When you get home at the end of a long day, who’s happier to see whom? You or your dog?
My dogs stand on their hind legs waving their forepaws, panting, and squealing like dolphins when we get home. They run aimlessly around the house. They do this when they’re hungry for dinner, but also when I get home just after my wife has fed them. Dogs are not celebrating dinner; they’re celebrating you.
But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to the servants, “Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry.”
Christ wants us to be just as happy to see him, just as he is happy to see us, sinners that we are. The Holy Spirit wants us to celebrate when he floods our hearts and souls with his graces. The Father wants us to celebrate his greatness. They want us to act like dogs when their people get home.
Rest Peacefully in Our Master’s Presence
When I sit down to write, my little Yorkie-poo, Stella, sleeps under my desk. Every muscle in her little body falls limp like a rubber band lying flaccid on the floor. Her master is near, her belly is full, and peace envelopes her. Because her master is there, she is happy. She is experiencing a bit of heaven on earth.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?
This is how Christ wants to feel in his presence. Nothing can hurt us. We have no concerns. We need nothing, and we want nothing else. God the Father will take care of us because we are with his Son.
Finally, have you ever seen the way a dog looks at its people? Or the way people look at their dogs?
That shared glance reminds me of one line from a prayer I say every day in pursuit of consecration to Jesus through Mary: “May our glances melt in one another.”
This loving exchange between dog and master is the exchange we’re to cultivate with our Lord and savior. And it’s more proof that happiness loves company.