Shakespeare observed, through the character of Juliet, that–while the name of a thing may change–its essence does not.
I have a friend that has a cute little dog, a white cocker spaniel-poodle mix. Upon my entering the house, the dog is extremely excited to see me, loves to jump up on my lap the minute I sit down, or will hop up into a chair to make it easier for me to pet her if I choose to remain standing.
She excitedly brings me her ball when she’s in the mood to play, and she always wants to be around me wherever–and whatever–I happen to be doing, including my time in the bathroom.
She is a delightful pet in many ways. Until there’s food around.
If she hears someone working in the kitchen, she comes running–even stopping an exciting round of fetch to go and investigate. Diligently she scours the kitchen floor to determine if a small morsel has been dropped accidentally by those involved in (human) meal preparation.
During meal times, she sits and stares at those eating, taking on the most blinkless, focused stare I have ever witnessed. She will sit, unflenching with the exception of shifting her eyes from one eater to another, waiting, hoping, begging for something to eat.
You might think that she is starved or neglected by the way she is transformed once the prospect of food arises. She most certainly is not.
She’s just a dog.
During the play times, the affectionate times, it’s easy to forget that she is a dog, an animal that is ultimately concerned with its own physical needs. The excitement, joy, and companionship that she displays are really all secondary elements, additional layers on her hierarchy of needs which she only brings to light when the question of food is nonexistent.
Ultimately, as cute and friendly as she is, she is a dog. And a dog wants to eat. It’s during mealtimes that we recognize this, and we jokingly proclaim, “You’re such a dog!”
Of course, she is just a dog–but we see in her the chance to be so much more. She needn’t worry about where her next meal or morsel is coming from, she could dwell all the time in her state of joy and companionship, but she chooses not to. When the specter of food arises, she readily caves in to acting upon this base identity of canine carnivore.
I wonder: does she not trust that she’ll be fed? Is she dissatisfied with her dog food and the occasional treat?
I don’t think so. I think it is simply that she is unable (or unwilling?) to escape her stereotypical, fundamental identity and to remain the amazing companion that she could be all the time.
And so I wonder: am I a dog as well?
At my best times, I can be a good companion too–affectionate, excited, enjoying life and relationship in a wonderful way. But then some base desire creeps up, and my attention becomes fixated upon that one thing. The joys of the previous moments are gone. The prospect of intimate time with friends is clouded over by the perceived opportunity of the moment to cater to some corporeal fulfillment.
Whether the temptation is to scrounge for food in gluttony, or to embark on a quest to fulfill some equally perverse desire (to possess goods, people, or pride) for self-gratification, I forsake many wonderful opportunities for relationship in order to make sure I get what I think I most need.
I’m not living from trust; I’m living like a dog. Or a human.
Of course, I am a human, but I am a special kind: I am a redeemed human, one who has been rescued from living only according to the basest desires and temptations. I have been given a special capacity for relationship, both with God and with others, but yet I often cling to the old way of doing things, to exerting my own energies to fulfilling those bottom layers in the hierarchy of needs, unable to trust that I have a Father who is, can, and will take care of me.
How often does He look at me in the same manner that I look at the dog at mealtime? How often does He see the potential for so much more delight in relationship, and then watch as I relegate myself to a mere consumption machine? How often does He witness me begging for scraps, when there is a feast of good things marked out especially for me in the very next room?
How often does He declare, “Where did that cute, delightful, companion go?–the one that I was having such a good time with only a minute ago!”
I can only trust that, like my feelings for the dog, my moments of fixation do not mitigate His overarching love for me.
I really do like that dog. She really does like me. Sometimes, she just isn’t willing to look and see the fulness of my care for her. But even in the midst of her begging, my affection remains, and I look forward to when the time to satisfy base desires will be over, and all that will remain is relationship.A dog by any other name indeed is a dog just the same. And a human being may do and say lesser things than praise and play. But God’s good love remains.