I never had a dog growing up. I was never really close with animals, either. So when I married what was clearly a dog person, I knew my canine-less days were numbered. That’s when we brought home Elinor, our rescued black lab. When we first met, she walked over to me and flopped right into my lap. We were best friends from the start, and my heart quickly melted as I immediately learned the joys of living with man’s best friend. That was sixteen years ago.
Surprisingly, Elinor is still around, even if she isn’t all there. She still likes her walks, although at a moderate speed so she arthritically hobble down the road. Her eyes are a bit clouded over and can’t quite see the way she used to, and her hearing is nominal at best. Dementia seems to be settling in, so she has her good days and her bad ones. Yet, she’s still with us, and we still love her, although her life for us can be quite difficult at times.
You see, because of the shape she’s in, she doesn’t always respond to her environment as she should. We’ve found her in a corner waiting for a non-existent door to open, begging for food immediately after dinner because she forgot that she just ate, and following us around the house for hours getting to know us because she doesn’t remember who we are. Yes, we love her, but it’s a constant test of that love to see how far and deep that love goes. We try to laugh a little when she’s having “an Elinor moment,” because our appropriate choices for emotionally dealing with her are limited, but our hearts are with her, as we know she loves us despite what she does.
We would never let anything happen to Elinor. She’s our family, and we’d do anything for those close to us. But what happens when those close to us test the boundaries of that love through the choices they make? For Elinor, she’s clearly not aware of the error of her choices and how they affect those around her, but what about those people who are capable of awareness? More specifically, how do we deal with those friends and family members that repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over again, and we are forced to accept them for who they are?
We all have those friends and family members that we keep at arm’s length because there’s something in particular about them that we just can’t deal with. Perhaps it’s a differing political opinion or lifestyle that doesn’t complement our own. Maybe it’s just that Uncle Harvey tells us the same joke every Christmas, and we’re expected to laugh at it every time. But, what about those who we keep close to us that keep hurting us over and over because of the choices they make? Is it right to cut them loose for the purposes of self-preservation? Or should we give them another chance, knowing that they’re going to blow that one, along with the next ten?
When Christ was delivering His ministry to the people, He gathered together twelve disciples, but among them He had a few that He kept even closer. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest brethren, someone in whom Jesus could confide. The night before Jesus was arrested, He held a dinner for His disciples to reveal to them everything that was going to happen. He told Peter that he would deny Christ three times the next day before the crowing of the rooster. When Peter heard this statement, he was flabbergasted, as Peter would never do something so disloyal and hurtful to Christ. Peter really loved Him, so the thought of turning against Him was foreign.
After Christ’s arrest the next day, Peter was questioned by many people about how well he knew Christ. Since he didn’t want to get arrested, Peter swore that Christ was a stranger to him. On the third time, Peter “began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26.74-75). Christ knew not just that Peter would deny Him, but that Peter would do it repeatedly. Yes, Christ appeared to Peter after His death and built His church on him, but the fact that Christ was willing to not just forgive him, but forgive him knowing that Peter would betray Him repeatedly suggests something about the way Christ viewed him.
So, how do we see past the choices our closest confidants make and view them the way that Christ sees them, similar to the way Christ viewed Peter? Remember, Christ judges the heart, whereas we tend to judge more external evidence. Although Peter denied Him, his heart was still with Him. It’s easy to be dissuaded by the outward appearance when someone close to you makes repeatedly hurtful decisions that cut through our own heart and feelings. No one ever said that forgiveness and understanding were easy. Seeing past their words and actions and going directly to what lies in their heart helps us to value them not for what they do but for who they are. However, to get this type of eyesight, we need to rely on God to grant it to us. Only through His heavenly power can we overcome this earthly outlook. We need to ask for His eyes when we can’t see correctly with our own. When we are tempted to look away because our eyes don’t like what they see, with His power we can overcome that temptation and see others as He sees them, keeping those that mean the most to us close to us, seeing instead what lies in their hearts. Amen.