October used to be a big month for the humans in our household, because our black Labrador retriever had his birthday then.
We humans always hoped with each year he would give up being a puppy and would begin acting like a mature dog, well-mannered, obedient, and appropriately calm. Our wiser and more experienced friends, however, used to tell us that most Labs remain pups for up to three or four years.
Looking back on those days, I guess it wasn't fair to wish adulthood on our dog so early in his life. But when I was a child, I often wanted to be grown up, because it meant that I would have more freedom, more respect, more money, and the use of the family automobile. Once I became an adult, however, I realized that growing older was not as much of an advantage as I had thought it would be.
I doubt that my dog gave growing up much thought. Life probably seemed pretty good to him back then. He got two adequate meals a day, fresh water every morning and evening, shelter inside the house when the weather became unpleasant and lots of walking with his humans. And he had more control over his schedule than you non-dog-owners might think is possible.
On days when the temperatures were warm, I usually walked him early in the cool mornings. On those days when it was cold or wet, I walked with him at a later hour. My convenience is what dictated the schedule, or so I thought.
But if he wanted to walk in the morning and I decided to sleep in, he came to our bedroom window and pawed at the screen. As soon as he heard me stir, he ran around the house to the back door and sat there long enough to determine if I was up and about to come out the door with his leash. If I was not soon out the door, he raced back to our bedroom window to repeat his request. I usually found it easier (and less noisy) to walk him every morning.
When he got hungry and there was no food in his dish, he picked it up and walked around our yard. If we didn't respond to the hint, he made a terrible racket by tossing his dish up into the air and letting it bounce on our concrete patio floor. When that didn't get our attention, he stood up at the window with the dish in his mouth and banged it on the window sill. This dog also carried a full-sized automobile tire around the yard in his mouth. After he destroyed two dishes, we decided to feed him whenever he seemed to be hungry.
We humans cannot afford to be puppies all our lives, and the Bible tells us that our God is not willing to be infinitely flexible with us, love us as he may. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways."
Paul was a well-seasoned person who must have known that growing up was not altogether pleasant or easy. He was aware that most Christians would prefer the convenience of remaining children, despite the apparent disadvantages of doing so. But he was clear in his understanding of how we must get on with the responsibilities of life.
He explained that mature love learns patience with others, becomes kind rather than overbearing, is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Mature love, he wrote, "does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:5-7).
Perhaps wishing adulthood on our dog was not altogether foolish, knowing that God wishes adulthood on me. The sobering thought is that in some ways I can be as much of a child now as my dog was a puppy then.
I just hope I can be as patient with our present dog as God obviously is with me!
Doug Rich is a dog lover and the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Clatsop Plains.