Sweet Pea and I have been together for a long time now, 16 years to be exact. In fact, I nearly gave her a “Sweet Sixteen” party, just because her birthday falls right around Valentine’s day and it would have given me something to celebrate…and because it would be funny—but that turned out to be too much work, so I just mildly resented Valentine’s day instead. So much easier.
In 16 years, you get to know each other pretty well. I know her quirky things, like the way she has never been able to locate sound. Odd for a dog. Almost as funny as that dog (also a Jack Russell) in Clean Slate with Dana Carvey back in the early 90’s who had the depth perception problem. That was funny. This is too, but not quite that funny. Not that it’s stopped us from calling her name, standing right beside her, and watching her immediately jerk her head that way, in the direction she thinks the sound came from…that is never anywhere near the direction we are actually calling from.
It took her a little while to realize her ears were, well, let’s just say off. When she was young, she would confidently rush off in the wrong direction, racing faster and faster the more I yelled after her. She’d finally realize something was wrong, maybe it was that my voice was getting rapidly fainter, stop, cock her head to the side, listen again, and then take off in another wrong direction. This would basically continue until she miraculously made eye contact with me. Occassionally, I could manage to get her to, “Sit! Stay!” and I could go get her. Usually though, through a series of wild jumping jacks and hand motions, her peripheral vision would finally register movement and I could get her attention that way.
A trainer once told me she was trying to ignore me or get away from me. This simply isn’t true. I knew it wasn’t true because she’s my dog, and you just know your dog. But I also knew it wasn’t true because when she did see me, she ran to me, full throttle, and arrived wagging and jumping with a sense of ecstatic relief, “I thought I lost you! I’m SO glad I found you!!!”
Old age is a funny thing. It’s changed things a little. Her hearing is worse, for starters. Not only can she not locate sound, but now she can’t hear sound. But that’s over simplifying it a bit. It’s a little spotty. Sometimes she hears. Sometimes she hears and she recognizes it, other times it seems to register slowly, like there’s a delayed response and the sound takes longer to travel through her brain.
She seems to know this, though. Because she knows this, she compensates for it…and then again, sometimes she just milks it. On her good days (not good like her hearing is good, good like she wants to please and be good), she watches me. She goes out to potty, but keeps checking back to see where I am, if I’m ready to move on, if it’s OK to keep sniffing around or if she needs to get to business… On those days, she listens to me, with her ears, but more importantly with her eyes, watching me, waiting to see what I might do that she might obey it. Well, I’m making her a little too noble perhaps. I don’t know if she cares about obedience per se, but she definitely cares that she doesn’t get left behind or left out. The point is, she’s watching me so it’s easy for me to get her attention.
But then there are those other days. This is what happens when you get old—you begin to take a few things for granted. She knows me too well. She knows that I won’t actually leave her. She knows that I won’t hurt her. (There was a time when I would discipline her and she knew it – but now I just can’t…she’s probably being disobedient, but what if it’s just Alzheimer’s??? She’ll certainly never tell – she’s going to milk that for all she can.) She knows where she is supposed to go, and where she’s not. She also knows when I’m in a hurry and don’t have time for her to romp about. SO, when she doesn’t want to stay where she’s supposed to, or hurry, or come, or whatever it may be, she not only pretends she doesn’t hear me, but she refuses to make eye contact.
You may think I’m being dramatic, but I tell you the truth. I can whistle loud enough that she hears it. You can even see her jump a little when I do it and then immediately put her head down and look at the ground so she cannot see me. You can see her glance up out of the corner of her eye at times (because she still wants to make sure she hasn’t lost me) but then immediately look away, pretending she never saw me.
When she’s looking at me, the slightest motion from me gets her attention and communicates clearly, because she knows me. But when she’s not looking at me, either because she’s distracted or refusing, I have to do more to get her attention. There’s the whistle and sometimes that works. It works when she’s not intentionally avoiding me, at least. Sometimes I start the jumping jacks. Then I may toss something her way – a little stick or something . If she pretends to ignore that, I get angry, frankly. Then I have to chase her and touch her physically—grab her tail, swat her behind, pick her up, something. I’m not cruel, but I have to get her attention, and she forced me to sterner measures because she refused to look at me.
You know, when she looks at me, I don’t have to get her attention— I already have it.
I was thinking today about how some things happen in our lives for no “reason” other than we live in a fallen world and troubles fall upon the just and the unjust alike. And then, other times things happen because God is wanting to get our attention. I realized, I want to be sure I’m looking at God and that He HAS my attention so that He never has to GET my attention. I want to be ready and watching, so that the slightest nod of his head and I am quick to follow.
This shouldn’t be hard; I’ve been with Him for a long time, now. I know Him and His ways better than I used to. When my relationship with God was newer, like Sweet Pea when she was young, my hearing was a little…off. I was trying hard to find God, but sometimes I was running hard in the wrong directions…trying, but misdirected.
I was like Sweet Pea in my youth, and I’m like her in my “old age” too. I know God’s not going to disown me. I know He loves me. I know there’s grace and forgiveness. I also know Him well enough to know when He’s going to ask me to do something I don’t really want to do just then. He’s going to ask me to go when I don’t want to, or where I don’t want to, and sometimes I think that if I just don’t look up, I can say I didn’t hear him. “Oh, I’m sorry God. I wanted to follow you. I meant to obey –but you can’t blame me—I didn’t hear you.”
It may be true that I didn’t hear Him. Or it may be that I heard him and pretended that I didn’t. In either case, the problem is probably less with my ears and more with my eyes. I wasn’t looking at Him. Just like Sweet Pea, I wasn’t looking up, to the face of my master; I was looking down at the ground, my mind on earthly things, on pleasing myself and not my Lord. Sweet Pea doesn’t need to hear me if she can see me. I’m not saying I shouldn’t listen to God’s voice. I know the verse about “my sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me”. I’m just saying that if I’m looking at God, I will hear Him. I will see His gestures, read His lips. I won’t miss anything He says or does if I’m looking at Him. But when I’m not looking at Him, I can miss what He says, or not be sure who said it, or worse, pretend I didn’t hear and presume upon grace as my Sweet Pea sometimes does.
When I presume upon that grace and pretend I don’t hear, when my attention isn’t already on God, then, just as I do with Sweet Pea, He will get my attention. He might try nicely a time or two, but then, if I still don’t respond, I force Him to be more severe.
In the end, Sweet Pea never resents me for getting her attention, even when she was trying to avoid it. In the end, she would rather be with me. I may grab her tail, and she may cower for just a second, but then I pick her up and her tail just wags. She knows I love her and she’s grateful to be in my arms. That dog would rather be by my side than anywhere, and I know that. She knows that, even though she doesn’t always act like it in the moment.
It’s the same with me and God. In the end, I never resent Him for getting my attention, even when I’ve tried to avoid it. I would rather be with Him, always, even though I may forget it in the moment. Sometimes I cower for a second when something drastic happens that gets my attention, but then He picks me up and I smile and I snuggle in, grateful to be in His arms, secure in the fact that He loves me.
That’s all true, but what strikes me tonight is the simple thought that I had so much rather GIVE God my attention than to make him GET my attention.
Let us ALL keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.