The other day I received a call from my best friend: her dog, who has always been good about staying in the yard had found an opening in the fence and “decided to explore”. It was late at night, and where he had gone was unknown territory to both my friend and her dog. It was a pretty frantic time with a lot of prayer going on that nothing bad happened to him. Good news, he was found, “up the road, around the corner and down the street”. When she found him, he was shaking, obviously scared, and I imagine he was thinking the entire time, “I’m sure this is how I get back home”.
Being lost is probably the worst feeling of all. Actually, I would expand that to “lostness”… the feeling that loss produces. I remember a time when my kids were young and I was in the store with them and one wandered off. Outside I was “calm”, but inside my world was crumbling. I had to do everything I could to keep my mind together as I went aisle after aisle looking for my child. He hadn’t gone far, thank God, but even that far was too far for me.
Yesterday I sat on the rocks at Muir Beach, contemplating life, relationships, and what God was doing in me. As I sat, I looked to my right to find a dog investigating the area around me. I called to the dog, but he basically ignored me, doing two things: investigating the area and checking for the location and direction of his owner. His owner appeared unfazed by the location of his dog, walking along the edge of the tide and taking in all that Muir Beach had to offer. As he walked, the dog would occasionally look up, make sure he wasn’t too far off, then go about exploring again. When the man turned direction and started heading back where he came from, the dog did the same – not right next to the man, but continued to explore… just in the new direction.
As I think about it, I can relate to both dogs. I remember asking my friend, “as long as he has been in the yard, why would he decide now to explore the gap in the fence?” Sometimes I guess we assume we are in proximity to our owner, but don’t realize how easy it is to lose sight. The other dog’s situation intrigued me. From my vantage point, the owner seemed totally unconcerned with the dog’s whereabouts, being more focused on the rocky terrain he was walking. If the dog “were me”, he might think, “doesn’t he even care where I am? I can just wander off like this… and look – see how close I am to this other human? He’s not even looking at me. Does he even love me?”
As I considered them though, I took note of something that really should be part of my life as a Christian. It wasn’t that the owner was unconcerned or unloving. The owner knew his dog – knew him enough to let him roam, knowing that neither the dog nor the owner would go too far from each other. The dog always checked in, looking for the owner, and the owner made sure to be visible to the dog.
I am reminded of the story of the prodigals – the son that took his inheritance, and the son that forgot what his inheritance was. The older son always gets me because he focuses on the younger son who got out of the fence, but he fails to see that he stopped checking for the location and direction of the father. His father’s response to him is priceless: “my son, you are always with me.” Just like the dog owner, where the dog was free to roam knowing he was still with his owner, the son was “free to flourish” in the presence of the Father, even when it seemed like the Father wasn’t looking. The son didn’t need to see it so much as he needed to know it.
When the younger prodigal came back, I’m sure he was nervous. The father was so loving and gracious that he covered him with his best robe. When my friend found her dog, she covered him with her love and assurance that he was ok. God does the same with us, easing our fears and settling us into the robe of his love.
So, I will continue to look up, seeing that God is not too far off, and even if it doesn’t look like he is concerned with me, I will know he is because of his unchanging love. And in those times that I stupidly wander out of the gate, I know that when he finds me, he will cover me with his robe of love and acceptance.