Against my better judgment, we acquired a dog (named Casper) over Labor Day weekend in 2017. If my math can be trusted, that’s exactly four years of his quirky yet pleasant personality, entertaining behaviors (such as his insistence to provide a “gift” anytime we walk into the house and his exuberant play with the pink, pig shaped squeaky toy), and of course 24/7 access to cuddling with an eighty pound gentle giant (admittedly I’m not as big on the cuddling as my wife, although it is oddly comforting that he’s generally nearby, protective, and loyal). That said… it’s also been exactly four years of barking, whining, walks in sweltering heat and bitter cold, non-stop shedding, and enough vet bills, specialty dog food purchases, and grooming/boarding costs to fund a small island nation. Good grief!
I’ve been known to lose my composure and/or get quite frustrated with the dog. Casper tests my patience, although it does little good to get aggravated or bent out of shape. He doesn’t intentionally shed right after we’ve swept the hardwoods. Casper didn’t deliberately plan his bathroom need with the torrential rainstorm. There are certain things simply beyond my control (or his for that matter). Pet ownership has forced me to stop and seek a more rational, healthy understanding and perspective. While I have griped, complained, and merely tolerated certain aspects of dog ownership, my wife calmly accepts and embraces the less pleasant side of living with Casper. She genuinely appreciates his company. How does one shift from a grumpy, defeated, woe is me posture to one of greater acceptance and steady gratitude? Is it a natural wiring or inclination? Or can a more promising perspective be learned and cultivated? I’ve worked to be more thoughtful about my responses and reactions. I’ve read online about dog behaviors and I’ve talked with other pet owners about their experiences. I’ve sought to be more mindful of the fun and enjoyable times shared with our dog. I’m trying to be less bothered by what I’ve historically framed as inconvenient, disruptive, and annoying. My experience with Casper is teaching me broader life lessons. I want to be careful here – I’m not equating the pet relationship to that of human interaction nor am I suggesting the whining of my dog is on level with someone else’s life altering hardship or struggle. However, I do believe there are transferable lessons, observations, and takeaways.
There are certain situations/outcomes beyond my influence. That’s life. I do have control over my response. Will I fuss, pout, or argue? Or will I opt to be patient, thoughtful, and gracious? Will I choose to be grateful for life and its opportunities or will find I fault with every situation and the people around me? How does my faith influence and inform my perceptions, responses, and ultimately my hope for this day (and every day after)? There are numerous encounters capable of putting us on our heels. We face frustration, disappointment, strained relationships, loss, sickness, and fear. The challenges and stressors of this life can leave us frazzled, beat down, and exhausted. How do we gain some perspective in the midst of trials and difficult seasons? How do we claim some breathing room? When pushed to our limits, where do we turn? Jesus says, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28, NIV).”
Let us remember God is for us. We are never, ever alone in this journey. Nor are life’s various hardships wasted. Paul’s letter to the Romans is instructive. It states, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3b-4, NIV).” While most of us prefer not to invite or chase after difficulty, somehow God uses such situations to grow and shape us. Jesus died that we might have life – a life with purpose, direction, and opportunity – a life which can bring glory to our Creator and Sustainer. What (or who) has you overwhelmed, discouraged, and nearing a breaking point? Is it time to recalibrate, time to be still, time to reclaim a perspective consistent with God’s loving character and intent? Be ever mindful… there is always hope.
Written and shared by Chad Roberts, MDiv, MSW