Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32 NASB)
I’ve heard it said that we are most critical of the faults in others that we see in ourselves.
My daughter’s dog, Greta, is a petite white labradoodle. When Kent and I arrive at her house, Greta goes nuts. While we’re trying to get through the front door, Greta is barking excitedly, circling around and jumping up to lick our hands. Frantic barking gives way to anguished yipping and grunting as we navigate the stairs to the playroom with bags of toys, lunch, reading material, purses, rain boots and extra grandma-grandpa stuff.
As a puppy, Greta distinguished herself as the charming, über-friendly runt of the litter. Her über-friendliness has not diminished over almost ten years and two litters of her own. Take Greta to a dog park and the dogs are slightly interesting, but the people! The people! She runs up to every single person and jumps up on them. What fun at the dog park! You can imagine what it’s like to take her on a walk in the city. I cross the street to avoid encountering people, when feasible. When not, I short the leash to about an inch, brace myself and call out in advance, “Don’t worry, she’s just really friendly!” Inevitably, people say, “Cute puppy!” Nope—she’s all grown up. And recently, she’s living the Lady and the Tramp life, with two little boys getting all the attention. So she’s needier than ever.
A few years ago, Greta and I spent some quality time together. I was dog-sitting and even my husband wasn’t around. Wherever I went in the house, she followed. If I sat at my desk, she wound herself around my feet. If I was on the couch, she backed herself up against my leg so she was in contact. If I took a shower, I found her lying on the floor by the door when I opened it.
It was a relief to give Greta back after dog-sitting, but I felt embarrassed, too. Greta and I are actually quite alike.
I, too, love to be with people. It’s hard to find a task on my to-do list that I wouldn’t prefer to do with company. So, I tend to offer company. “Going to Home Depot? Oh, would you like company?” Or Kent and I find ourselves with a carload going to the recycle event in Redmond and I say, “We’re on a date!”
I like to know what people are thinking about, and sometimes I keep offering help or ideas or ask, “How are you feeling?” until I drive people crazy.
My husband finds this useful at times. Sometimes in the morning, when he’s comfortably lodged in his recliner with his tablet, he realizes he’s forgotten to bring over his coffee. He gives me that puppy dog look and says, “Would you mind getting my coffee?” Not only do I not mind, I practically leap into action, joyously. I’m programmed for this.
Like Greta, I talk to strangers. I remember a particular grocery-shopping trip with my daughter way back when. I got into a conversation with another shopper about some food product and afterwards, my daughter asked me, “Do you know her?” I had to confess, “No.”
So where do I go with my annoyance at Greta? I’m reminded of it weekly, when I babysit the grandkids. The Lord has some lessons for me.
First, “In everything, treat others the way you’d like to be treated” (Matthew 7:12 NASB). The basic Golden Rule is in the Sermon on the Mount, after all! Be gentle and understanding with Greta, give her some attention, make room for liking or appreciation to flower, with God’s help. Find ways for her to shine, like frolicking in the backyard or chasing squirrels. Apply this principle to people whom I find annoying, treating them gently and finding ways to let them shine.
Second, back off and give her some space. Recognize that not everyone is as people-oriented as I am. In fact, some people are just the opposite, NOT wanting help, NOT wanting to be asked how they feel, NOT wanting a lot of conversation, NOT wanting to do things together. Love them in a way that they can receive.
Third, let God meet my need for people in a Spirit-directed way. God designed me to need people. But sin warps my need into selfishness. With God’s guidance and power, I can love and be loved in constructive, mutually-beneficial ways. God’s vision of community is much less individualistic and more interwoven than American society tends to tolerate. Follow God’s lead and I find friendship and love among people I might have overlooked.
If I forget these lessons, the good thing is, Greta will be at the door waiting for me once again!
Jani can be reached by email here.