Who doesn’t love dogs? Dogs are loyal, loving, fun to play with, soft to touch, and a visual representation of happiness with their waggity tails. Dogs are unarguably a good gift from God. I’m not a Dog Person, but I’m also not (theoretically) opposed to dogs. Cats are my pet of choice, but sovereignly-ordained allergies in our family decreed that cats are a no-go for my home (sigh). If we are going to have a pet, it’s going to be a dog.

When our children were small we believed having a dog was important to their development as human beings. After all, how else would they learn responsibility?! (LOL, I know, I know… but, I believed it.) And so, to five growing and active children we added dogs, one at a time. Maggie, then Duke, and then Vali each added their waggity tails to our already chaotic household. Our children learned to run and tumble with the furry bodies, to overlook—or get over—the inconveniences of caring for a pet, and that turning one’s back to food left on the table has consequences. But they mostly learned that no matter what, those dogs loved them deeply, unselfishly, and without reservation.

A Dog vs. Heart Idols

Fast-forward to the present: our children are grown, and our nest is nearly empty. A cross-country move a few years ago coincided with our final goodbye to our last dog, and I breathed a sigh of relief that we were no longer dog owners. I realize this makes me a Terrible Human Being, but I served my sentence, we had three dogs—Rescue Dogs, even! Now was My Time to enjoy a cleaner, quieter home, spontaneous days away, and turning my back to food left on the table without consequences!

Enter, Zoe.

Rearing our children with dogs resulted in young adults who adore dogs, and at least one who could not live without a dog but adopted a pup too soon, not realizing that her family’s circumstances were untenable for dog ownership. There. Briefest explanation possible for why we once again Own A Dog. Rather than returning her to the Rescue from whence she came and risking teaching the grandboys that inconvenient family members are returnable, we agreed to give her a home.

Zoe’s 65-pounds of Labrador enthusiasm bounded through our door and went straight for my idols. Cleanliness and quietude fled from her presence. Spontaneous afternoons, not to mention weekends away, scattered to the winds. Food left on the table is only one source of stolen joy for this pup, and knick-knacks, mementoes, magazines, and couch pillows have been disfigured or destroyed by her ravening maw (“Lord! Don’t you care that she’s destroying my stuff?”) When she chewed up the Reader’s Digest I was annoyed. When she ate the book—which I was only 2/3 finished reading—I was apoplectic (“But, Lord! It’s Sinclair Ferguson!”)

My Time for quiet morning devotion and prayer has now been rearranged by feeding the dog, letting the dog out, and walking the dog (and, more recently, cleaning the dog’s ears and medicating the dog). She has swiftly slipped past me on more than one occasion when coming in from a wet backyard and jumped all over the living room furniture in a gleeful game of “catch-me-if-you-can,” leaving great muddy pawprints everywhere and me panting with fury as she laughs with the joy of the chase. Her hair is everywhere—everywhere. We have been reminded that Vet bills very nearly resemble car payments…

If it sounds like complaining, it’s only because it is—and I felt rather justified in my complaints while I was at it. Until the Lord gave me a nudge.

Sanctification and the Complaining Heart

As my attitude toward Zoe degenerated, the Lord gently reminded me of a note I scribbled years ago in the margin of my Bible, which reads, “Complaint is the flag of ingratitude, and it waves above the fortress of an unbelieving heart.” I looked it up again today. Upon rereading it my initial response was, “Well, that’s harsh. Isn’t there a Bible verse somewhere that sweetly agrees with me on this?… Maybe an imprecatory Psalm?” The passage next to which I wrote said note speaks of the Israelites complaining in the wilderness, which doesn’t apply to the dog, exactly. No. It applies to me.

The Israelite’s ingratitude and unbelief in the wilderness led to their hardened hearts. Their hardened hearts led to them missing God’s blessings as they rehearsed their complaints. If I think about this honestly, my own complaining is a window to my heart. There I see the ugliness of ingratitude, discovered by the dog. You see, I was entirely content with my quiet life, believing that it was what I deserved after so many busy, unquiet years rearing my family. I did not believe that, in owning a dog, God had any purpose or benefit for me. I believed a lie.

Paul wrote to the Philippians “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:11-13)

I thought I already learned contentment through the various trials and tribulations of my life. I checked that box. The Lord spent decades teaching me to seek his still, small voice in the stormy chaos of sanctification. God’s mighty hand was my humbling refuge as I learned to cast my anxieties on him. Yet contentment in all situations includes not only the sledgehammer sanctification of life-altering events, but the steady sandpapering of daily aggravations. Enter, Zoe.

When I rehearse my complaints, I miss the blessings. While I may be missing out on My Time, morning walks with Zoe are not only good for exercise, but they’re perfect for rehearsing Scripture memorization. Zoe listens as I rehearse God’s Word in the still morning air as we walk. Needing to come home to care for the dog may be an inconvenience, but Zoe is always overjoyed to see me, with an ear-to-ear grin and waggity tail. She may make a mess jumping on the furniture, but when I settle down to read or nap on the couch, Zoe is a sweet snuggle-puppy and settles in next to me with her warm, soft head in my lap. The difference between complaining about or enjoying Zoe is my attitude toward her.

God chooses the perfect tools to sanctify each area of our lives. Some hardnesses of heart need a sledgehammer, some unbelief takes a hammer and chisel, some ingratitude needs sandpaper, and some complaints require a sweet dog with a waggity tail. Through Zoe I get a glimpse of how God loves me deeply, unselfishly, and without reservation. So, I hope it doesn’t sound trite when I say I am learning to be content with Zoe, through Christ who strengthens me. (I’m a work in progress.)

About the Author:

Barbaranne Kelly

Barbaranne reads, writes, cooks, runs, and shoots an occasional photo in Texas.  She and her husband Jim are the parents of five of the neatest people they know and grandparents to the first two of (hopefully) many grandchildren.  She has been blogging ever since she accidentally signed up for a blog while attempting to comment on a friend’s blog post and figured, “Why not?”  She now blogs at Grateful and Women of Purpose, a ministry of the women of her church. Barbaranne and Jim are members of Christ Presbyterian Church in New Braunfels, Texas, where she leads a Bible study for women in the hope that she and they may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.