Day 26: Dogs

We sat in Linda’s golf cart at the campground. Children were running and giggling. I could smell burgers from someone’s grill. And I was sharing with her all the ways we might change the world together in ministry.

I needed a right hand; a teaching pastor who would be an anchor. But also, someone who would help me dream big dreams. Maggie, Linda’s golden retriever, was sitting with us panting from the heat. I laughed and said, “You could even bring your dog to work”. Apparently, bring your dog to work was the golden ticket because she accepted my offer.

It has been five years now and our pups have done ministry with us in many ways. They came with us to serve lemonade to soccer families in the neighborhood. We dressed them up as coffee cups and passed out candy on Halloween as baristas. They joined us for prayer meetings, Bible studies, and brainstorming sessions. We became good friends, and our pups were buddies.

Last year, I was in Seattle right before the pandemic hit. I went for a five-day conference. Then, on day two, my daughter called because our pup had a seizure. Although she seemed fine, it was the beginning of the end. In November, we rushed her to the emergency vet where they told us she was too sick and would not live. Our pup crossed the rainbow bridge that day.

Never had I imagined that losing a pet would be so painful. Linda reassured me by acknowledging the pain. She has said good-bye to several pets over the years and she understood the hole it left in your life and daily routine. “Cry. Just cry”, she told me. A few months later, my friend would have to say good-bye to her pup, too.

Grief is an equal opportunist. It is not partial to age or gender or how much money you make. It comes when you least expect it and asks for your whole heart. The world wants to place restrictions on what you grieve and how you grieve. But it does not work that way. God created us with a capacity to love and hope and dream. Any loss has the potential to break your heart and bring pain to your spirit.

Over the past year, our nation and our world has experienced tremendous loss. As ministers, we were confronted with grief almost every day. We buried our friends who were members. We sat with our members who lost loved ones. We labored to encourage and build up those who were exhausted from so much change. However, the question that Linda and I asked ourselves over and over was this: how do you minister to those who are grieving when you are grieving as well?

Our ministerial training emphasized selfcare and keeping the Sabbath. But it did not paint the picture well enough. It did not capture the reality of exhaustion brought on by a pandemic, racial tensions, political tensions, and grief upon grief.

My friend gave me permission to feel the loss and sadness. Later, I tried to do the same for her. It has helped us to empathize with one another. It has given us new perspective. And it has helped us to heal so we could move on. Mostly, it forced us to become hyper-religious about our sabbath-keeping.

We have started to track our days of rest. We inquire of one another if we rested or simply thought about it. Did we turn off the news, phone, media? Did we eat, sleep, and move our bodies? Did we talk with a spiritual director or counselor to help process the deep things of our soul?

You may need to hear this today: it is okay to cry, it is okay to feel the pain, it is okay to share the memories with a friend. It is good to rest and to stop, just stop. We need to care for ourselves before we can genuinely care for others. As followers of Jesus, we think we are uber spiritual when we sacrifice our time and health, but Jesus knew when it was time to get away. He took time to rest and eat and be with His friends. He also took extra time to be with the Father. Jesus was faithful to keep the Sabbath.

We are slowly entering a new season, a new normal. It will be slow in coming to fruition. Therefore, it is a good time to practice resting and keeping the Sabbath. It is a great time to form new habits to take us into the new normal. Friends let me encourage you to declutter while we still have time. It will bless your soul and your future. May you find hope and rest in the One who gave you a capacity for great love!

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