Once upon a time I shared a gritty little tell-all tale about my earlier struggles in marriage and the painful but beautiful lesson learned about the difference between being “in love” and loving, actually loving, for better or for worse. Well, this past year a dog – yes, a dog – has taught me even more, about unconditional love.
For those of you familiar with Mochi the toy Shih Tzu, you will be surprised, perhaps horrified, to learn that we’ve recently let her go to another family.
Because my kids were “in love” with Mochi.
And I loved Mochi.
But none of us loved her unconditionally.
And there’s a difference among the three.
Now Mochi was – is — the sweetest, fluffiest, little 7-pound lap dog ever. She loved everyone, wasn’t yappy in the least, was playful when you were up for playing and calm when you weren’t. A perfect dog in many ways.
We brought her home when she was three months old. The training began immediately and lasted one crazy long year.
And to my own surprise (but no one else’s), I did all the training.
The kids, who’d begged, Begged, for a dog, for years, Years, and promised, Promised, to help care for her and do the work of raising a dog, didn’t. They reluctantly helped here and there but only when commanded to, by a very exasperated mom.
They were, however, Excellent, at “missing” her while we were away on trips and at greeting her for an entire minute or two upon waking in the mornings or coming home from school. I’ll give them that.
But I digress. Anyhoooo…
In the end, Mochi still didn’t get it. She wasn’t housebroken. She didn’t have full bladder control. She’d pee excitedly upon a “hello” or “good morning” with a back scratch. Or she’d sometimes relieve herself in her own bed rather than the pee pad just a few feet away. Or worse, she’d eat her own feces. Frequently at first, far less so over time. But still. (yuck) And she immediately knew she was in trouble, but stubbornly refused to kick the dirty habit for good.
Well. Hygiene is where Mom had to draw the line. Especially when the cute little poop-eating fur-ball loved to lick her children’s faces. (gag)
And so. Never mind the time, money and energy poured into her – waking throughout the nights to take her out to pee, reliving the exhausting days of mothering toddlers and nervously keeping track of “potty time”, feeding, walking and bathing her, teaching her to “sit,” “wait,” “paw,” and “roll over,” taking her to get vaccinated, groomed, de-wormed, spayed and chipped, snuggling her tenderly when she wanted attention – I finally took one hard look in the mirror and said,
“I can’t do it. I just can’t. I love her. But not enough. Not unconditionally.”
And so. I let friends know we were looking for a loving new home for our Mochi, making full disclosure of my reasons, and a waitlist grew immediately.
I miss her. I do. I miss her sweetness. And I miss how much she loved me. She loved me most.
She knew mine was the hand that fed her, bathed her, threw the ball over and over for her, cleaned up after her. She knew I was the one who knew her body rhythms because I’d paid attention and worked hard to keep up as best I could. She knew I was the one who practiced with her and rewarded her with treats while teaching her tricks, day after day. She knew my feet were the ones to hide under when my youngest was too excited or rough with her. She knew I was the one who’d hold and pet her gingerly, brush her hair out and scratch her itches, just so.
Of course, the kids don’t understand. They call me cruel and heartless for letting her go. They say I never loved her. (The gall!)
But the truth is:
They were “in love” with her. They adored her for moments at a time, when it was convenient for them, when she was most lovely, most lovable.
And I loved her. I did the active work of love. But only for so long as I had hope she’d ultimately meet my expectations or demands.
Even so, I lost hope and I gave up. And sadly, that’s because I didn’t love her unconditionally.
The only unconditional love I myself have ever known or could ever fully trust is that of my loving Father in heaven. He will never stop loving me. He’s incapable of it.
Well. This morning, my daughter was ecstatic to stumble upon a page in her “keys for kids” devotional (free at keysforkids.org by the way) that could teach Mom a lesson or two.
Over breakfast, she read aloud, with great emphasis, an excerpt from a devotional entitled “We All Make Mistakes – 1 John 1:5-10”:
“’Oreo just had an accident on the couch!’ Jocelyn yelled, grabbing the rabbit and running him to his litter box.
‘Dumb rabbit,’ Mason said, heartbroken. ‘Now we’re going to have to get rid of him.’
‘No, we’re not,’ Dad said. ‘He’s a rabbit. He was created to live outdoors. We’re not going to give him away just because he was doing what rabbits do. We’ll just have to restrict where he can go in the house from now on.’
‘We’re not going to get rid of him just because he made a mistake,’ Mom added. ‘He’s our rabbit, and we’re going to keep helping him learn to use the litter box. You know, we aren’t perfect either. We make mistakes, and we sin. But Jesus won’t abandon us when we mess up. He’ll always love us and help us walk in His light. When we admit our sins to Him, He forgives us.’”
Now I know, and appreciate, from experience, these truths about Jesus. I’ve taken Him up on His promise of forgiveness and acceptance many a time. I see and admit to Him the things I say or think or do every day that don’t reflect His good and loving character.
I’m no Jesus. At least not yet. And certainly not for a dog, however lovable.
I wish, for her sake and the kids’, that my love for Mochi was unconditional, but it’s not.
More importantly, I wish God would grow my love for others, for people, all people, to be unconditional. That is my prayer each and every day. And that is the hope I can hold on to, today.
And that order is tall enough for a “cruel and heartless” person like me.