Friday, March 21, 2008

On Being Faithful

Over and over this past weekend, Friends told stories about their lives that were sometimes frightening, occasionally heartbreaking, but mostly amazing and inspiring and wonderful. So many stories ended with words something like this: “I never would have thought that it was possible….”

And we talked about being faithful. And about being called to be faithful, without worrying about the outcome. Letting the Lord be the One in charge of what “success” looks like, whether it’s what we expect or whether it looks suspiciously like what we would think of as failure. Holding on to the call of the Holy Spirit, and letting go of expectations, and just doing what we have been called to do. Or trying to do it, even though we think it is impossible. Oh, how scary to feel like the Lord is calling you to do something that You think is impossible! Surely not me, Lord…. Perhaps you have me confused with someone else, Lord….

I kept thinking about my dog. Once upon a time, I had a big, ugly, gator-headed, black-and-brindle dog named Jack. We took him in off the street--dumped and hungry--and he lived with us for nearly 10 years. The day we buried him, my husband said to me, “He was the most faithful dog I ever had.” And I have thought about that since, and I thought about it during our weekend retreat…. What does it mean to be faithful?

When I say Jack was a faithful dog, what do I mean? Certainly not that he was bright. Frankly, he was pretty dumb. We enrolled him in obedience class once, and the work of remembering how to Sit and Heel always exhausted him so much that the instructor started telling us to let him rest in the middle of class. “OK, you’ve lost Jack,” he’d say. “Let him go sit down for a while.” So, thank goodness, being smart is not part of it.

But he was always willing. He always wanted to do what we said, although sometimes he failed. OK, often he failed. But he was willing. And once it penetrated his thick skull that something would be good to do, he did it. So obedience is part of it, and being willing to be obedient is part of it. But I’ve had dogs who were just as obedient.

And then I think of Jack’s last days, after cancer had completely eaten away his left rear hip bone. For a long time, he had walked with a limp, and I had helped him up and down steps. But by the end, he couldn’t get up by himself. He would lie on the floor in whatever room I was in, and if he wanted to get up, he would signal, by placing his paws just so and cocking his head just so, and I would come over and lift his rear legs while Jack worked his front legs, and then we would go out and he’d get a drink or a bite to eat or relieve himself…. But after a while the leg began to swell and began to drag when he walked, and we knew that the pain killers and our care weren’t what Jack needed anymore. So we made the appointment.

As we were getting ready to go to the vet, one of my other dogs was standing between me and the kitchen door, and without thinking, I said, “Let’s go, Jack…” Talking to my other dog, shooing him out of the way, but using the wrong name. (I do that to my kids, sometimes too.) And I heard a sudden scrabbling, scratching, lurching noise from behind me on the kitchen floor, and I turned around. Jack was struggling to stand. He had managed to brace his front feet and pull his chest off the floor, and he was straining to pull his rear legs under him. And he was looking at me. I had said, “Let’s go, Jack” and that was good enough for him. He knew he couldn’t stand by himself. He hadn’t been able to stand by himself for awhile. But he knew I had called him, so he was willing to attempt the impossible, if it was what I wanted. I ran over and helped him to his feet. And he leaned on me… so calm, so trusting. That, in the end, is what being faithful means…. Trusting. Jack trusted me so much, that he was willing to attempt the impossible. Simply because I had called him.

I think about Jack sometimes when I am afraid to do something that I feel God is calling me to do. Some things just seem so big. So impossible. How can I? There must be some mistake.

And then I remember Jack. He never questioned me when he heard my call. He never looked afraid or doubtful. He just Tried. And he trusted me to be there for him. If I, who am just a grumpy old mama, can help Jack to his feet when he needs me…. How much more will my Lord catch me?

Hold on.
Let go.


kevin roberts said...

I'll never forget the day I snapped an electric shock collar onto Jack to see if I could keep him out of the neighbor's swimming pool.

I put in new batteries, tightened it up, and stepped across the buried trigger wire. Then I said, "Jack. Come."

Jack looked at me, and then walked up to the wire, as the shock collar started beeping and giving him little warning shocks. Then he turned his head sideways, closed his eyes, and with the collar furiously beeping and crackling with electricity, walked completely through the trigger zone, to me.

Because I had called him.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a complete copy of The Influence of One Life by Ernest R. Chamberlain? If you do will you please post it? I have been unable to find it anywhere.