Author Jennifer Marshall Bleakley explains how our fury friends can bring us closer to God.
“I didn’t think anyone could love me,” Henry confessed, his voice thick with emotion. “Not after what I’d done—who I’d become. I was just lying in that hospital bed waiting to die, when—” the middle-aged man cleared his throat—“when a therapy dog named Gracie walked into my room. The white Lab looked straight up at me with her big brown eyes. Her tail wagged like she was excited to see me, and . . . it was like something shifted inside me.” He rubbed his forearm across his flushed face. “It might sound silly, but it felt like Gracie had come to tell me that she loved me—and that God loved me too. I will never forget that day.”
Henry was one of the dozens of people I interviewed while working with Larry Randolph on a book about the therapy dog ministry he felt called by God to start more than sixteen years ago. I knew I would hear touching stories about the comfort and joy people experienced from therapy dogs. And I did. But I also heard stories of people being forever changed by the love of God—a love they describe as entering their lives on paws and with a wagging tail.
I’ve written several books about the many spiritual lessons we can learn from animals. But working on Finding Grace helped me realise that in addition to teaching us things about faith, ourselves, and others, God has uniquely equipped dogs to point people’s hearts to himself.
Dogs see what really matters
Dogs don’t care about our bank accounts, our political affiliations, how many social media followers we have, or what we do for a living. Dogs—whether pets, therapy dogs, or dogs in need of a home—see us for who we really are, and want to be near us. Dogs can help point us to the God who doesn’t look at our outward appearance, but who instead looks at our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).
Dogs are faithful
A loyal dog can point our hearts to the faithfulness of God, who promises to never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). Whether we deserve it or not, whether we take their loyalty for granted or not, a loyal dog will stay by our side and eagerly welcome us back home each day.
Dogs can be helpful
From therapy dogs and service dogs, to dogs trained in search and rescue and bomb detection, to dogs who help us get exercise and lick our tears when we cry, it is hard to deny that God—who describes himself as our helper (Isaiah 41:10)—has equipped dogs to help people in unique and practical ways.
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Dogs are willing to be present with us
Dogs are willing to sit with us when we cry, jump with us when we rejoice, and lie down with us when we’re tired. We don’t have to pretend with them. We can simply be with them like we can be with the God who promises to always be with us (Joshua 1:9).
Dogs protect and defend us
From a police dog pursuing a criminal, to a pet dog growling to alert his family to a potential intruder, to a dog on a hike placing herself between a snake and her owner, there is no shortage of ways dogs protect and defend us. And in doing so, they point our hearts to God—our rock and our protector (Psalm 18:2).
Dogs can point people to God
Of course, we know that dogs aren’t perfect. They jump and chew, they get into the trash, and they can make big messes. But if we let them—if we paws and pay attention—dogs can point our hearts and minds to the God who loves us so much that he’s willing to enter our lives on paws and with a wagging tail.
You can buy Jennifer Marshall Bleakley’s book Finding Grace: The Inspiring True Story of Therapy Dogs Bringing Comfort, Hope and Love to a Hurting World here.
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