July 22, 2021
A couple of weeks ago, I asked you for help with an upcoming sermon series. Called Obedience School, the series will explore the life lessons we learn from our pets. I’ve heard from some of you, received a few pictures and stories of dogs and cats, even a couple of chickens. But I am still hoping for a few more. So keep them coming.
But in the meantime, I thought it might be helpful for me to share something of what I am talking about. Probably the best way to do that is to tell you about Toby. Toby is my shadow, my buddy. When we got him, we were told that Toby is a Lab mix, and I guess he is. I am beginning to think he’s more hound than Lab, but no matter. When we thought he was mostly Lab, several Lab owners warned us about the breed’s propensity to chew. It was hard to imagine it could be as bad as they said. And it wasn’t. It was worse.
When he was a puppy, he chewed the corners off the risers on our stairs. He chewed two holes in the middle of the carpet. He chewed up two indoor doormats as well as the corner off one of the brand new ones outside. He chewed the bottom of the cedar posts that held up the cover over our patio. He chewed up a place mat, multiple leftover containers that were drying on the kitchen counter, a pair of my glasses, the edge of the coffee table, a cell phone, multiple shoes and – perhaps the most perplexing – a jar of Vicks Vapor Rub. Not to mention every stuffed toy we got him when he was little and the stuffed football that the neighbor kids accidentally threw over the fence.
And that was all before he was 6 months old. Some Lab owners warned us the “chewing phase” could last up to two years, but thankfully it did not. We survived it. Today, at age two-and-a-half, he is, as we like to say, a good dog. He’s very sweet, provides hours of entertainment and – I am convinced – will keep our two older dogs young into their golden years. I also never get tired of watching the joy he experiences when he is running and playing in the middle of a thunderstorm. But I can’t lie. At the time, the destruction was frustrating.
I still remember the night it really came to a head. We caught him chewing up a couch cushion – one that he had already worked on -- and I was right on the edge of blowing up, losing my temper. And in that moment, Melissa stopped me and said, “He doesn’t know the difference.” And I realized she was right. Toby just wanted to chew. He didn’t know why. It’s just something inside of him, and I doubt he could control it if he wanted to. He doesn’t understand value. He doesn’t understand why a rawhide bone is OK, but the edge of a $400 coffee table isn’t. He just chews.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a cathartic moment. It was hard to be angry with Toby when I took the time to understand him better. When I realized that he and I are different and don’t see and interpret things the same way. When I realized that Toby isn’t trying to get on my last nerve. In fact, there is nothing he likes more than to please me and receive praise.
It also struck me that the same principle applies to how we deal with each other. We may not be as far apart as Toby and I, but we are all different. We see things differently. We experience things differently. We interpret things differently. Our histories are different, and that has an effect on how we see the present. And yet increasingly we seem to expect everyone to see things as we see them, to interpret things as we interpret them, and to ultimately want the same things that we want. And I can’t help but think that the futility of those expectations is what is driving the underlying anger that we experience in our culture today.
So I am trying something new. To my daily prayer time I am adding an additional petition to God. “Lord, help me to recognize that everyone is not like me. Help me to understand that everyone’s experience is not mine. And help me to celebrate the diversity that You created.”
After all, who among us wouldn’t benefit from a moment of catharsis in the midst of our chaotic lives?
In the meantime, keep sending me your pet stories. You can reach me at .
See you Sunday.