Be As Little Children

Job 7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; 8 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being”.

Angel, our 5-year-old Abyssinian guinea pig died in our arms Friday morning, the 7th pet to die in as many years. Experience does not make it easier. The vet suggested if she made it through the night, her chances for survival would increase. There was a caveat: Guinea pigs, like sheep, have a natural ability to simply “shut down” at the slightest hint of illness. In the wild, this would no doubt be merciful, as a sick or injured animal would be easy prey and “shutting down” would spare them a painful death. In a domestic situation, this message meant, “don’t get your hopes up too high”.

Psalm 145:9 – The Lord is good to all, Compassionate to every creature.

Throughout the night, I whispered encouragement to her, my hopes, like her breathing, vacillating between light and easy, laborious and intense. The ticking of the clock was like that of a tiny engine incrementally moving night closer to day – closer to the verdict of life or death. Bittersweet, the morning sun streamed through the window, just as she took her last breath. “She’s gone”, my daughter, Sarah, quietly said.

We huddled together on the sofa, taking turns holding Angel’s still-warm body. I watched as my son’s heart waged battle against what his eyes showed him to be true. “I don’t want her to die”, he said quietly, head bowed, passing Angel’s towel-wrapped body to his sister. She turned to search my eyes. “Are we sure she’s dead, Mama. Are we very, very sure.” Knowing a simple “yes” would not satisfy, I struggled with what might help them in their understanding and sorrow. Saying a quick prayer for wisdom, I realized her death could be an opportunity to put our science experiments to a real life test as a way of grounding them (and me) in the midst of pain.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Sarah handed me a flashlight retrieved from an “Emergency Safety Kit”. We bowed down over Angel, taking turns shining the bright light into her eyes. Even though I knew what the results would be, I still found myself holding my breath hoping that maybe, just maybe, her pupils would respond with signs of life. When that failed, we held a small mirror under her nostrils, checking respiratory signs. When that failed, Daniel sat back on his heels, mimicking Winnie The Pooh, “Think, Think, Think“, suddenly exclaiming, “I know! Her heart!“ Crouching low, he placed his right ear to her small chest. Inspired, Sarah checked for a pulse. Several silent moments later, Sarah leaned against me, whispering through her tears, “Thank you, Mama. Thank you for letting her die at home with us and not with strangers at the vet’s office.”

Php 3:8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

A few days before Angel’s death, I’d read an Interview with Katherine Paterson, self-described Christian and author of “Bridge to Terabithia“. Paterson was asked “why it was important to deal with death in a story made for children”, to which she responded, “I think books give us emotional practice. We do have trouble dealing with death, but it’s the one thing that is guaranteed we are all going to have to do, and we are going to have to face it many times before we die ourselves.”

While books are wonderful, difficult to imagine life without, I’d question their effectiveness – a bit too safe, too sanitized – as offering “emotional practice“.

To me, obtaining “emotional practice” in this manner would be the equivalent of outfitting one’s self in a wet suit, life jacket and scuba pack, leaping into a kiddie pool claiming to have experienced deep-sea diving.

It’s not that books don’t have the power to emotionally affect us. I spent plenty of my childhood bawling my eyes out over great reads like “Old Yeller” and “Where The Red Fern Grows“. The problem, from a “practice“ perspective, was that each sobbing, eye-blotting, nose-blowing event was a carbon copy of the one before, not straying too many degrees one way or another from a flat-line sense of “sad”.

I was less than prepared, even with extensive “emotional practice” provided by dog and nature tales, for the death of my first dog – a rescued Fox Terrier who was a grateful and loyal best friend and companion – when I was 12-years of age. Her death left me emotionally stunned, and painfully miserable for months. Years later, my second loyal companion died unexpectedly, leaving me devastated. The third death, my beloved cocker spaniel, was untimely, wretched and brutal, with cancer claiming his life, introducing me to levels of grieving unknown. Combined, they didn’t equal the pain I suffered at the death of my grandmother, which even now, several decades later, gives me daily pause to remember, a twine of grief still tugging at my heart.

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you….

Paterson’s idea, that “emotional practice” helps us because “we do have trouble dealing with death”, doesn’t strike a Biblical chord of truth with me. Better we tackle the real problem head-on: we, in our own power, can no more make “peace” with death, than we can to save our own souls. While the theological specifics of that have been discussed, debated and analyzed for centuries, the basic Christian bottom line is this: What we struggle against isn’t, as Paterson prescribes, “trouble dealing with death”, but instead, we struggle and have “trouble dealing” with a Sovereign God.

Job 12:9-10 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being….

Watching my children dealing with Angel’s death was humbling. They made a choice, in the midst of pain, to “gird up the loins of the mind“ (1 Peter 1:13), something that had taken me decades longer to grasp. They did not sin in their grieving, something which I often struggle against. There was no grumbling, no complaining or questioning His reason or purpose, for taking away Angel’s breath. They simply accepted what He had chosen to do, easily comprehending, in faith, it was His decree.

With joy, I listened to them thanking Him for having “shared” Angel with them and all that it had meant. “I liked the way she asked me for food. Lord, you gave her a very cute voice. I will miss taking care of her”, Daniel prayed. As if all the tears and sadness of the day hadn’t been enough to make me want to leap into the car, fleeing to the pet store in search of another guinea pig, those words and memories nearly clinched the deal.

Glancing at the clock, trying to determine if I could get to the pet store before closing time, Daniel continued his prayer, “….and some day, God, I’d like another guinea pig. You can’t replace Angel. I know that. So, well, I guess we don’t need to get another one right away. I can wait to see if you want to give me another some other day – or year“.

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

Mentally, I put my car keys back in my purse and my heart back on prayer. I gave thanks for the multiple lessons of the day. I prayed for the coming day – that it would be one that we could rest under the peace and safety of His wings, adjusting to the absence of one of His special little creatures. More than anything, I prayed he would make me more like them, my little children.

  1. Sharon, your words always make me cry, and think/search deeply within my heart and wake up to new realities in Him. Bless you!
    — wren    Mar 21, 09:16 PM    #
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