Times have been hard, finances tight, stress high, and our energy low—so we got a dog. Not just a dog—Pharoah, a large male Doberman that our son Claude and his wife, Katie, shipped us from Illinois. Claude and Katie had moved to a smaller place in Kansas City where they both found jobs. They moved from a house with large yard to a rental, and asked if we wanted Pharoah, an eleven-month-old Doberman.
Our last dog, Mira, was a Doberman and a wonderful dog in many ways. She was, however, not easy to care for. She would snatch food off kitchen counters and tables, eat socks and underwear, dig holes in the yard, and scratch deep ruts in the doors. Our house and yard are full of dog scars. And then there were the vet bills and finding someone to care for her when we were gone. In short, we knew what we were getting into if we said yes to Claude and Katie’s offer.
We considered the wisdom of getting another dog carefully. We had to think about the medical bills that hammered us this last year and whether we could afford a dog—even one given to us. We wondered if we needed one more worry, one more thing to think of between medical appointments. Every practical consideration argued against taking Pharaoh into our home and our hearts. So many people we have known have died in the last five years, I didn’t want to risk another dog dying. We were weary of heartache.
However, C. S. Lewis is right about how wrong it is for us to calculate the cost of loving. In his book The Four Loves, Lewis takes issue with St. Augustine’s advice to avoid suffering and heartbreak by loving only God, the “only safe investment.” Lewis argues rejecting love because it leads to suffering seems “to be a thousand miles away from Christ” and is remnant of Augustine’s Stoic philosophy. About the calculating the benefits of loving, Lewis asks, “Would you choose a wife or a friend–if it comes to that, would you choose a dog–in this spirit?” The cost of loving is suffering, and suffering is the cost of living redemptive lives of eternal significance. The call to love is a call to something higher and better than happiness.
I have heard that married couples without kids are happier than those with kids. I believe it. Loving kids opens you to all kinds of fear and hurt. No failure is more crushing than failure as a mother or father. Our decision to have kids was a decision to adopt. We have never regretted it. Nor have we doubted that we adopted in response to God’s direction and will. We have sometimes doubted whether we were best parents God could have given our kids. And we have doubted some decisions we made as parents. Could we have been wiser? Probably. Would we have been happier? Of course.
Often our kids have brought us great joy. There is no scale for weighing the genuine delights of parenthood against the worry and heartache. Even if there were such a scale, throwing grandchildren into the calculations changes everything. Grandchildren give us many more potential sources of joy and sorrow.
We have learned that pouring your love into kids means risking your heart and happiness. Nothing tears your heart apart more than watching your kid suffer sickness. Sin, rebellion, and impurity in your kids shatters every dream and godly hope for your kids. Every failure of your kids to follow God makes you question the quality of your parenting. It makes you wonder if you had been more spiritual maybe your kid would be Christian. Like God’s creation of Adam and Eve, the decision to have or adopt kids leads to the cross. It leads to suffering.
We are called to love without calculating the cost or fearing the risk. Loving is what we are created to do. Love is what were redeemed to do. But love with an eye on the benefits becomes something less than and something different from love. Jesus calls us to love one another as He has loved us and that means loving with abandon. It can mean washing the feet of Judas.
Although there is much mention of heavenly award in Scripture, the reward is always out of sight and a little vague. It is impossible to check the balance of our treasure in heaven. Lest we are tempted to love only God’s blessing and the promise of reward, the reward is always delayed or sometimes slipped anonymously under the door. As Lewis argues, we do not love even God with an eye only on the benefits. A decision to walk in love and follow Jesus sets us free from calculating love because we are asked to give all, follow Jesus anywhere, and love even if it kills us.
Love does not do cost/benefit analysis. So, we got a dog. We love him, but we wish Pharaoh would stop marking his territory against the legs of the kitchen table.
Love cleans up.