"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Of Puppy Love and Jesus

By Micky Wolf
In recent months one of our neighbors became the proud owners of a new puppy. “Vanilla Bean” [not his real name], a soft, fuzzy, ball of wiggly, tail-thumping joy has amused everyone who happened upon his front yard. To say nothing of his larger-than-life brown eyes, so sparkly and bright that one gaze in the direction of an innocent passerby was enough to melt and conquer any heart with nary a whimper. 

For a brief season, Vanilla Bean spent more time in the arms of his four human siblings—and Mom and Dad—than walking around on wobbly puppy fours. This season passed all too quickly. As anyone knows who has owned a canine, the puppy phase passes faster than you can say “but I just cleaned up a do-do!” 

Overnight, it seems, little pattering paws morph into hairy, thudding disks the size of dessert plates. Cute, yippy, squeaks mysteriously transform into guttural growls and gruffness sufficient to thwart the bravest of visitors or kind neighbors. No more running about without a lease. I wonder, Vanilla Bean, are you sad now that when outdoors, the fenced backyard is the only place to run without restraint? What happened to being small and fuzzy, floppy and carefree? 

Dog lover or not, seems we as Christians may have more in common with Vanilla Bean than we realize at first glance. And it all often begins with a kind of puppy love.

Our first love…

The initial moments of our first real sense of Jesus’ presence in our life are giddy infatuation—we are feelin’ the love. We can barely contain ourselves. Like Vanilla Bean, we wobble around as if intoxicated. We utter lots of words and rambling phrases as young, star-crossed lovers are want to. Our dreamy, big-eyed gazes materialize with no apparent provocation. Time passes. We lose our puppy-ness of spiritual new love. It is time to grow and become more mature. Do we?

A Divine lead…

As with Vanilla Bean, the Lord in His wisdom and goodness often provides us with an important connection in the beginning of our love walk. This Divine lead, so to speak, may be a connection to a mentor, faith community or fellowship group that can help us learn to navigate life as a Christian. They encourage and support us, lend a guiding hand when we wander too far from the path. As we begin to understand that our real connection needs to be with God rather than a person or group of people, our dependence upon others begins to take a backseat to our faith and trust in the leading and guiding of the Spirit within.

Hedge of protection…

As puppies learn where it is acceptable to run free and with whom, we too begin to understand how to cooperate with God’s grace in His provision of a hedge of Divine protection around us as we journey through life.  We appreciate the need to establish healthy boundaries, discerning what is good and what is sinful and how to pray, listen for the still small voice and make choices, acting in a manner that honors and respects God, our families, friends and passersby.

Building strength and endurance…

Vanilla Bean is blessed to have people who truly care about him. He enjoys regular walks and chases after peculiar looking rubber toys with total abandon. We, his human companions, must also remember the importance of keeping in shape—physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Laxity on our part to care for our mind, body and spirit will inevitably lead to ‘equipment failure’ of one sort or another. Aging is inevitable—a life enveloped in indifference, negativity or pessimism is not—unless we let it be so.

Growling and guarding…

Sometimes a rather unseemly character may appear at our door. Just ask Vanilla Bean. Even in his grown-up dog-ness there are several others who regularly strut by making sure he knows who has the biggest bark and deepest growl in the neighborhood. And so it is for us—nasty attitudes, self-centered behaviors and evil intent come knocking on a regular basis, tempting us to be unloving of God, others and self. Discerning the presence of a dark spirit and refusing it entry into our thoughts, feelings and hearts by calling upon Jesus and offering a prayer will go a long way toward making our little corner of the world a kinder, more compassionate place.

Disposing the do-do…

In the beginning, Vanilla Bean deposited his waste where ever he happened to be. Eventually, his master taught him there are certain places you do that sort of thing. While well-placed diapers serve little humans with regard to this function, it is important to realize that as we grow and mature as Christians we need to incorporate better ways of dealing with our yucky stuff. For example: If we are angry, we need to learn to be angry without sinning. This means dumping our stuff without injuring or hurting the other person. When we intentionally and heart-fully make the choice to dispose of our frustrations and hurts by forgiving others as well as asking for forgiveness for our own less than thoughtful or considerate behaviors and actions, we minimize the damage and suffering we may wreck on the very people we say we love.

Have we forgotten our first love? 

The joy of being a puppy does not last long, for either Vanilla Bean or the human family who provides a home for him to grow and flourish. In his youth he lavished warm, sloppy kisses on any face within tongue-shot. He ran pell-mell on the heels of everyone, eagerly anticipating opportunities to leap into welcoming arms for big hugs and squeezes. Those things still happen, only now, Vanilla Bean moves with a grace and maturity befitting a grown-up dog—without losing a sense of his delightful puppy playfulness.

Jesus exhorts us to “be as little children” [Matthew 18:3-6] in spirit, regardless of our age. What does that mean? Simply, that as life unfolds we are to be open and spontaneous—curious and seeking, in a good way—learning, growing and being stretched as we encounter the spiritual, physical, intellectual and emotional world around and within us. Not forgetting the joy and peace of our first new love with Him will keep us moving in that good and pleasing direction.

Is there a puppy-ness about some of my attitudes or behaviors in need of growing up?

How do I recall the thoughts and feelings of first falling in love with Jesus?

Is He my first love now? If not, why not?

What does it mean for me “to be as a little child” with Jesus as my model?

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