Big God, Big Grizzly, Little Me
I first saw Grizzly in a photograph on a friend’s phone. He was enormous and intimidating. She was a volunteer with Service Dogs Alabama and was insistent that I needed to adopt this dog. We were side by side at the hair salon, draped in capes and having our roots done, when I told her I wanted a big dog to walk with me and she began to tell me about this dog that needed to be adopted because he “wasn’t ever going to be able to wear the vest.” That is service-dog-speak for “flunking out.” Grizzly was in the second phase of his training, living with a family for socialization, when his herding instincts were deemed too strong be a true service animal.
“But he’d be a good emotional support dog for someone who’s been through trauma,” she said.
At that point I just wanted a guard dog. I didn’t think of myself as needing emotional support from a dog or having been through a traumatic experience. That last sentence speaks to the power of denial in the human mind, since at that point in time I was regularly having nightmares and hardly went anywhere alone.
My daughter and I visited the humane shelter and I put feelers out for about a month. I couldn’t find just the right dog. I’d think of the imposing black dog I’d seen in the picture and pray, but then decide he was too much dog for me and someone more needy than me should get him.
Remember when I asked God, “What might you have to show my of yourself, O God, in my moments with this dog? What truth is coming to liberate me embodied in this shiny coat and running on those giant paws?”
Here’s one answer: I haven’t wanted him to be as large as He is, nor have I wanted to be as needy as I am.
I’ve been considering my image of God for some time now, realizing how my experience of him is limited because of my image of him. A recent writing exercise asked me to write about the god I believe in vs. the god I wished I believed in. Approached honestly, that exercise leads to confession.
Among St. Paul, St. Augustine, and other great theologians I’ve read is my Uncle Dudley who says, “You do what you believe. The rest is religious talk.” The day-to-day, ordinary life I live, the self-talk I listen to most of the time, the worries and fears that are allowed too much space in my head, the people and things in which I place my hope - all those reveal a smaller god than I want to believe in. I’ve had a Wally-sized god.
If you’ve been following the blog for awhile, you know that Wally is our 22 lb. Schnauzer. He’s cute and cuddly and his bark is loud, but that’s about it. He is small and easy to control. Taking him into our lives several years ago wasn’t too much of a disruption. We held him in our laps or tucked him in his crate in the laundry room when we left the house. At times, a visitor to our home may not even know we had a dog.
There You are again, Jesus, using the things of this world, flesh and bone, to show me Yourself.
You want to be Grizzly-size in my life. There is so much more of You, but I have been too afraid and too prideful to experience You. I didn’t want more than I could contain because it might interrupt the carefully crafted life I had built. And mostly I didn’t want to be ‘needy’. I wanted to know you, but only so far as I didn’t have to face the depth of my weakness.
I’ve recently read David G. Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery. His thesis, and he quotes Thomas a` Kempis, Augustine, and John Calvin in support of it, is that one cannot know self apart from knowing God, but that we also cannot know God apart from knowing self.
It takes time and prayer to see ourselves, the places in us we don’t want God to go, and the ways we resist Him. It’s a dark and difficult grace to face ourselves, but that is where we see the light and experience the power and strength of God. He meets us within, the very place we thought we could hide from Him. I can’t begin to know Him fully without letting go of trying to contain Him. I can’t embrace His strength if I don’t acknowledge my weakness. This is the liberating truth running to set me free.
Taking Grizzly into my life is showing me this. Daily, I have to accept that I am ‘that needy person’ and that there is no such thing as “too much God.”