It was barely dawn. I stood at the door of my screened in porch, my seashell clad coffee cup steaming in the early Burney chill. My puppies sat at the gate of their kennel, waiting for me to free the latch and free their feet to run in the larger grassy area. Heads tipped up and a bit sideways, they whined a little while I sipped my morning sanity. They are five weeks old tomorrow. Tiny still, they resemble floppy eared baby bears. Full of life and adventure, they long to run and tumble in the green.
Once my mind cleared, I set my coffee down and headed for the gate. At my movement, anticipation wiggled their backsides, so much so that when the gate came open they fell all over each other with excitement. They were pleased, brave little puppy bears knocking around each other in order to get to the place of play. They know no fear for they have known no trouble. Life has not slapped them once. Happily, they untangled themselves and commenced to tackling the pinecones that dot my yard. Their simple joy makes me smile. It also sets my heart to longing.
Now don’t raise your brows at me. Pastors have longings too. We, just like you, have had troubles that seek out our joys and missile shoot them, blowing them to smithereens. We can find ourselves standing on back porches drinking seashell coffee and nursing broken hearts; lacking the joy the life lived with God is meant to bring.
I walked the yard that morning, imitation baby bears in tow, and contemplated my own soul. Joy, for me, is a sense that God approves of my life, that love rules my world and that I will be ok in all my circumstances. Lately, that has not been the way of my mind. Stresses, struggles and hurts have been the order of these times for me, and amidst these things I have lost sight of joy.
I spun around in the grass and kiss-called the little ones, so they would come near me. I wanted first to pet them and make them feel my love. Then I wanted to make sure their needs were met. Then I would put them back in their protected place. At the sound of my voice, all of them jumped from their play and waddle-ran to my feet. I lavished them with my care, filling their little ears with bright words and their bodies with tender touch. Then I led them toward their large home, already filled with fresh bedding; healthy food and cool water. They followed me in without reservation, nibbled a little kibble and lapped up a bit of water. I sat down near the gate and waited for what I knew was coming. When puppies get all-played-out tired, they are predictable. Each of them sauntered over to me and found a spot near a leg, or a hip, or the small of the back. A couple climbed up on the thighs. With puppy bear sighs, they plopped down on me, closed their eyes and drifted off to a fretless sleep.
I leaned my head back on the kennel wall and closed my eyes. My own all-played-out weariness rising in my soul, I let the lady in me weep for a while. It has been a tough season. Broken hearts abound, mine included. It seems that many think pastors are tough as nails and are immune to the hurtful things that come from those who are cruel. Reality is, being one who is called to walk so close to God that you can shepherd his people makes one more sensitive to the evils of the world, not less. It is hard enough to watch when a self-absorbed soul destructs and the fallout hurts others, but when that destruction includes one’s own heart, joy tries to run into the shadows. For me it succeeded.
I took a deep breath and sat a while with my little ones. Watching them happily snooze softened my heart. I enjoyed them for a while, knowing that they have not one mean bone in their little bodies, and that they trust me implicitly.
When I got up and snuck out the gate, I thought of how they trust me. They know when it rains I will cover them. When its cold I will warm them. When they are hungry I will feed them. They don’t doubt me, so they don’t worry. Instead they enjoy the pine cones. Life is fun for them because they know they are loved.
As I headed back into my screened in porch I wondered if I trusted God as much as my puppies trust me, I might also play with enthusiasm and joy; and maybe I would plop down someplace comfy and sleep like a puppy bear.