For the hundredth time in ten minutes, Tiger dropped the annihilated red football at our feet. As far as he was concerned, our presence in the garden was purely for the purpose of playing "kick and chase" and he expected us to keep our end of the bargain.
Looking at the chewed "ball" at my feet, I made a fairly obvious comment to my husband that we were really going to have to throw the old thing out. The rubber football was not even really a ball anymore, having been gnawed completely in half by our miniature fox terrier. The missing half had disappeared relatively slowly over previous weeks as Tiger had whittled it away during happy sessions of destructiveness. However, the end of the ball's "life" was in sight and it was already, in my opinion, long overdue for its appointment with the garbage bin.
"Oh no, we couldn't do that. It's just about the only thing that keeps him amused." Steve sounded almost amazed that I could have suggested such a thing.
But as Tiger blissfully chomped off another bite-sized bit of ball, the realist in Steve came up with a sensible compromise.
"Well, I'll have to get him a replacement then. He'd be lost without his favourite thing."
There's an old saying that we always hurt the ones we love and when it comes to Tiger and his favourite playthings, that couldn't be truer. Our little pup has quite a lot of balls at his disposal -- particularly fuzzy, yellow tennis ones which are ideal for playing "kick and chase". That is, at least from the "kickers" point of view. However, although he will give them all a bit of attention now and then, he invariably ends up going back to whichever toy is his current favourite.
Not surprisingly, considering how Tiger treats the "chosen ones", there are always plenty of balls in quite good condition scattered around the garden, with only ever one that looks as though it's been run over by the lawnmower. That's because the "love" treatment is only ever given to one toy at a time -- for the term of its unnatural "life".
In this instance it just so happens to be Matt's old red football that is the "fortunate" recipient of all Tiger's affection.
For some reason, his little doggy brain hasn't quite worked out that if he continues to chew bits off, there won't be anything left of his favourite toy at all -- even though this has been the fate of each of his favourites throughout his six years of life. All he knows is that one day they're there and the next day they're gone.
Unfortunately, the truth of that old saying isn't just relatable to Tiger and his toys. The reality is that it's often just as true for those of us in the non-canine, non-toy chewing category as well. For the most part it happens because we are so comfortably familiar and secure in our relationships that we make the mistake of saying and doing things that we wouldn't normally say and do to anyone else.
The problem with treating these comfortable, secure relationships in this way is that if we continue to carelessly hurt the ones we love, then those same relationships will not remain comfortable and secure for very much longer. In some cases it may even reach the point where they also are there one day and gone the next.
It's true that an intimate, family relationship does give room for each member to be themselves and to know with confidence that they will always be loved, even when they're having a bad day. However that doesn't give us the license to take these familial ties for granted. Instead, we should do everything that we possibly can to build up and encourage those who are closest to our hearts.
Having said that though, I'm now going to change direction completely and come from a totally different angle.
You see in those extremely close and loving relationships, it will also sometimes be necessary to say and do things which may seem hurtful for a time. Unlike the irreparable and senseless damage done by Tiger to his favourite things, there are actually times when we may unavoidably hurt the ones we love through our words or actions, because of the fact that we do love them so very much. The difference is that where Tiger is being destructive, our aim is to be constructive.
It's love that compels us to honestly say something about an unhealthy lifestyle choice or potentially dangerous situation or decision, even though we know that the things we say may very well hurt. Strangely enough, in this totally converse way of looking at it, if we didn't love them in the way that we do, we probably wouldn't bother to take the risk of alienating their affection through our honesty.
The Apostle Paul took this risk when he first wrote to the church in Corinth and lovingly, but very forthrightly, pointed out the areas where they had gone off track. We discover in his second letter to that church, that doing this was not something Paul had enjoyed. Unlike the very blunt and "cut to the chase" style of James, Paul was someone who always tried to build up and encourage those to whom he wrote or visited -- even when he had hard things to say.
How easy it would have been for Paul to let the things he'd been hearing about the church in Corinth just slide! After all, who of us would want to risk having a whole congregation turn against us because we'd spoken out about their behaviour? It would be so much less unpleasant from our point of view to simply let them learn from the consequences of their own mistakes or else let some other person point it out.
Yes, it would be much easier ... but far from loving!
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he really didn't know how they would react. All he knew was that he must, in love, speak the truth or else be accountable to God for his silence.
Paul expressed his feelings about that first letter, when he wrote again and said:
Paul's example is so perfect in this that we really should model our relationships after him. For one thing, Paul did not relish the task of setting the troublesome congregation straight. In other words, he wasn't just waiting for any opportunity to blast them. Instead he lovingly corrected them only because his heart was heavy for what he saw the Corinthians doing to themselves and to their witness.
He didn't delight in the pain that they felt on reading his letter, but he also didn't regret it. Paul understood that the pain was necessary in order to bring about repentance and a return to abundant life in Christ.
Finally, he didn't continue to bring up all the things that they had done wrong in the past. He didn't keep reminding them of their old sins so that they would be in a constant state of guilt and pain. Instead he rejoiced with them over their change of heart and went straight back to encouraging them through his love. This is so obvious just a few verses after the one we read, where Paul wrote:
Can you imagine how that congregation must have felt when they read that the great Apostle Paul had actually "boasted" about them? No matter how hurt the Corinthian church may have been by Paul's previous letter, that statement alone would have acted as a final soothing balm to heal any last vestiges of wounded feelings.
Just like Paul, there will be many times throughout life where we will be confronted with the need to speak hard truth to those who are closest to our hearts. It's not something we should go looking for; but on the other hand, it isn't something we should try to avoid either.
When these situations do arise and we just know without hesitation that to stay silent would be wrong, we need to make sure that any action we take is totally without manipulation or self interest. Instead, everything we do and everything we say should spring from the very purest of motives and from a heart overflowing with unconditional love.
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