Called to Love: Bluebird or Dog?

Sometimes we don’t seem to have enough words. I love chocolate, French onion dip, and tomatoes. I love my husband, my children, my family, and my friends. I love my home and my church. I love sunsets, the sound of waves on the shore, and the utter silence of walking in falling snow. I love beautiful music and the sound of a baby laughing. The love I have for each of those is totally different than the love I have for the others, but English only gives us one word to express all those concepts.

Every morning when I wake up, I get a cup of coffee, put out mealworms for the bluebirds, and settle down on the couch with my dog and my Bible. I love watching the bluebirds. They bring me joy, but they don’t know me. I haven’t named them; I can’t even tell them apart. They watch me warily through the window as they come and go from the feeder. If I move too suddenly or in their direction, they quickly fly away. They’re not grateful that I feed them; they just know where to go to find what they want. I provide; they take…no relationship, just routine.

My dog brings me joy as well. But the big difference is that I have a relationship with my dog. He is eager to follow me to the coffee machine and couch. He will settle himself in such a way that he can feel my touch as he falls back to sleep. He celebrates (by dancing!) each time I return home. He chooses to be with me. He responds to my call and my command. He knows my routine, and he is a precious part of my life and our family. My home is not complete without him. His presence brings me joy. You may not think he is the smartest or the most beautiful dog (though I would disagree!), but I love him utterly, not because of what he looks like or what he can do, but because he is mine. He doesn’t make my life easier; he is part of what makes the struggles of my days worth the effort.

The theme of the Ten Commandments and of Jesus’ teaching is that we are to love. Jesus made clear that the laws weren’t the goal….the relationship was. Jesus said that the entire law could be summed up with the word love. But I fear that too often we settle for “bluebird love” when what God wants is “dog love”. We may perch on the outskirts of religion in order to get just enough to survive another day. We show up when we need God’s provision, but we don’t allow ourselves to get close enough to know his love. We keep one eye on what we want and one eye on him to make sure he doesn’t get too close, and we fly quickly away if we sense his presence. We see him as a threat.

What God wants for us and from us is “dog” love. It is the desire of his heart to dwell with his people and share their lives. He came to us because he wants us to come to him. He wants us to understand that he will provide all that we need. He delights in us and wants us to find that same delight in him. He wants us to know his voice and find fullness and peace in his presence. And once we have, he wants us to share that love with others.

It is so much easier to do the right thing than it is to love. That requires so much more personal investment. I can guarantee an outcome or a finished product with far less risk and effort than a relationship requires. I can write a check or show my support and be done. I finish a checklist of requirements and obligations and never put my heart on the line. When God calls us to love him and others, what he wants is for us to stop going through the motions and just trying to survive; he wants us to love with everything in us: heart, soul, strength and mind.

In I Corinthians 13 Paul succinctly stated that behavior without love is worthless. God doesn’t ask us to behave in a way that looks like love. He doesn’t want us to go through the motions or check off a list to show that we’ve completed the demands of love. He wants us to believe and follow and know him until his presence is where we choose to be. He wants us to love him back and let the love he has for us spill over into the lives of those in our path.

God loved us before we knew him, and God’s love is higher, wider, deeper and more profound that any love we’ve experienced on this earth. Our deep down, “dog” love will put us in relationship that “bluebird” love will never know. Don’t cheat yourself. God loves you. The only two things he requires is that you love him and love others, not out of obligation or fear of hell, but because that relationship is what you were created for. Loving God won’t necessarily make your life easier; loving him and his people will make your life worth the struggle of this life.

Luke 10:27 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’