My dog does not speak English, though I wish she did. When I leave in the morning, I wish I knew for sure that she understood I am always coming back. She sometimes looks so fearful in those moments just before the door closes; I always think, if we just spoke the same language, it would reassure her.
I wish I knew what my dog is thinking. Sometimes she makes it pretty obvious, licking her lips for a treat or scratching at the door to go outside. She stretches out when she wants a belly rub. I am able to decipher those signs and give her what she needs, but she can’t tell me where she’s been, or what she’s seen, what it was like to have her babies in Arkansas, who house-trained her then let her go, and why. Most would say she doesn’t remember, but I disagree. I wish she could tell me all about it.
More than that, I wish I could speak to her in a way she could understand so she’d feel comfort and peace all the time. I wish she knew what it means when I tell her over and over how much I love her, but that is not a language she speaks. So instead, I pet her, hold eye contact, give her a piece of chicken. In those moments, I think she is feeling loved, though she can’t say so explicitly. I do wish she would believe me when I say that the people or dogs who walk down our street are okay, that we are safe, but she is all instinct. She barks when she is afraid, and I can’t convince her otherwise.
My frustration at our lack of communication is how God must feel when He looks at me. I am so basic at times, all need and instinct, and there is so much I don’t understand. I, too, bark when I am afraid. I am fearful, and I seldom feel confident about how loved I am. I am always looking for treats and signs that I am not alone. I want to rest in that reassurance, and I sleep so much better when I feel it.
But I don’t, not all the time, and the times when I feel a disconnect from God make me feel like a scared animal, wide eyed and searching out the windows for when He’ll come for me. And for all I know, He is telling me over and over how much He loves me, that He’ll come back, that I am safe, and I just don’t hear or understand or believe it. His ways are above my ways, after all. (Isaiah 55:8)
My dog’s limited vocabulary includes “walk”, “cookie”, “supper”, “play”, “bed”, “sit”, and “no”, and maybe those are the only concepts I really need when it comes to my relationship with God, or at least that’s the basic level we’re on these days. Somehow He makes it clear when He is leading me to be outside myself, when I need to be fed, when I need to rest, and stop. I am always ready for a gift from Him and I am too familiar with how His “no” is probably ultimately for my benefit, though I still hate it and pull away.
Unlike my understanding of Bailey’s past, God knows all there is to know about mine, as He’s been walking with me all along. Sending me people, music, sky, Scripture, sacrament, or spirit to break through and let me know it will really be okay. He is trying every language I know and He will keep at it until I stop and look Him square in the eyes and feel how Loved I am. And in that moment, just like my puppy, I will finally exhale and rest. My goodness, when will I ever learn?