I have this little skittish dog. She is scared of people, but not me, not my family. She has learned to trust us over the years. However, they were long years. It took a lot of courage on her part and a lot of patience on ours. But still, her default demeanor is one of skittishness and most people would see that and simply dismiss it as her being a skittish dog but, since we took the time to know her, we understand what is behind it. You see, before she came to live with us, she was horribly abused, starved of food and water, and never shown the slightest kindness.
It has been a journey with her, from the day I saw her photo posted on the rescue group. The note atop her photo said that she’d been saved from a puppy mill which was discovered after the tornadoes of 2011, and taken to a vet. All of the other dogs had been sent to foster homes but she was still there: at the vet, in that kennel, alone, with no one to pick her up.
I got her that day. After a glance at a picture on Facebook. I knew immediately that I was the one who was supposed to care for her.
They had given her the temporary name of “Stormy”.
I changed it to “Sweetie” before I even met her.
It took weeks to get her used to having food to eat, even longer to get her used to having water to drink. I used to have to only put a small bowl out at a time because she would drink all of the water immediately no matter how much was offered, she never stopped until the bowl was empty. Sometimes this would make her sick so I had to find the delicate balance of offering her water often enough for her to learn that it would always be available without leaving a bowl out all of the time. Blessedly, we worked our way up to being able to have her bowl always full.
Being able to show her affection was another issue entirely. This dog had never been petted before and I LOVE to “love on” dogs. Rather than force it, though, I just respected where she was at, gave her time, and let her come to me.
And when she did, I was slow, observant, and respectful still.
It took several weeks before she let me pet her and it broke my heart how she was terrified and longing for that single stroke at the same time.
It took over a year before she stopped hiding when we came into the room.
And it’s been eleven years now – and when we walk in she rolls over onto her belly and grunts for belly rubs. She interrupts my work by forcing her head beneath my typing hands so I’ll pet her instead of my keyboard .. And cuddles up next to my husband at night in bed.
She knows she is loved now. She trusts us.
But that trust wasn’t given by us telling her she “should” trust us.
Or by us being somehow immediately worthy of a it.
Or by us somehow having earned the trust of other dogs in our previous relationships, which she could know nothing about.
We decided to love her first, respect where she was at, and give her time.
The hardened people in our lives are like that. Angry people, hurt people, most of them no different from a wounded puppy in a kennel, alone, isolated.
Some of them we can reach, some of them we can’t. But that doesn’t change the commandment to love them. Often, when we are kind to a hardened or unkind person, they respond by continuing to be unkind and we act surprised and put off and resign ourselves not to make the mistake of showing them kindness again. I’m so glad the Father doesn’t operate that way with us because I would find myself in a ditch long ago, with no chance of making it onto this narrow path!
Sometimes, the pain in someone’s heart seems to vibrate in response to your kindness. There may have been times in which they wanted to be loved and were not, so they are convinced that you will let them down before you even have a chance to show you won’t. Sometimes, in response to your simply being in the life of a suffering person, they may lash out in unkindness because it just hurts too much to keep inside. And what are we to do? What would the Messiah do?
He’d recognize that puppy, see it for what it is. Not a vicious dog, but the wounded, lonely, scared boy or girl inside.
All of this to say.
When the Father instructs us to love our neighbor, he offers no mention of our neighbor loving us back. When the Father instructs us to love our neighbor, he offers no mention of our neighbor loving us back.
When the Father instructs us to love our neighbor, he offers no mention of our neighbor loving us back.
Yet, so often we treat loving our neighbor as transactional, we offer it up once and if it is not returned we resign ourselves to avoid them. But when our Messiah said, “Love one another as I have loved you” is that what He meant? I’m sure glad the Father’s isn’t like that with us. Our Father lavishes us with grace and love and as His children, we should seek to follow His example.
We are called to show Grace.
Not just when it is easy to do so. A light at noon on a sunny day is great, but do you know when light is needed the most? In the darkness.
We may not see that our kindness and love makes a difference, but we of all people know firsthand how much difference the love of YHWH can make in a life.
God may send one of us to plant a seed and others to water it, but the harvest is His own, no matter who He determines to be there when it happens.
Loving people who are hard to love takes courage and strength that I don’t believe we can have apart from Him, so we must draw on the heart of our Father in order to be that person of steadfastness, the one who is able to maintain that grace for the long term, who will not be moved.
During the early days of bringing Sweetie home, I felt like somedays she was daring me not to love her, daring me to be mean, she even bit me the first week and it was a pretty deep bite at that. But rather than harden my heart towards her, I let it break for her. That is exactly what our Messiah did for you and me.
I am reminded that I have been that person in a prison of my own making, and it was the grace and love of God that freed me. I realize that the Father may not appoint me to be the one who eventually opens the door to anyones prison, but if I keep my eyes and heart set on Him, and love my neighbor as He has loved me, I may be the one who teaches them how to take the steps that will eventually lead them out – and into our Father’s arms.
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