In my family, I’m the “dog person.”
My wife Becky loves animals, but she tends to reserve her respect for those that don’t come into our house, such as hummingbirds and elephants, whales and eagles.
Given her lack of enthusiasm for dogs, I’m always grateful when she assumes the caretaker role for my pound pup during my cross-country speaking trips.
I’m careful to call Becky the “caretaker” because it would be a pitiful mistake to reference her as Toby’s mommy. She will not share the “mommy” title with any sentient being except our children. You might say that stopping people from referencing their pets as children has become her “pet” peeve.
I think that’s because she understands that our pet relationships are fairly straightforward compared to those with our children. If you give your pet affection and food, you’ll definitely become its best friend.
Children are much more complicated. Having children is an act of faith. Parents can never know for sure if their child will become a rock star or a drug addict. A new parent can only wonder: Will this child grow to love me or spend his or her life totally disrespecting me?
Abraham knew a lot about the uncertainty of parenting. He’s the father of a boy named Isaac in an oft-told story from the Judeo-Christian tradition. This father-and-son pair went skipping up the mountain on a father-son camping trip. But all was not what it seemed. Abe was on a bizarre mission from God.
God told Abe to slay his son on that mountain as a peculiar way of proving his faithfulness. At first glance, the story seems like the tale of a god with a borderline personality disorder: pleased one moment and homicidal the next.
But at second look, we see God has a plan. Just as Abraham ties his son to the altar of sacrifice, a clueless ram wonders into the picture. Fortunately, God instructs Abraham to free his son in exchange for the ram.
Slaying one’s son is the most unthinkable thing I can imagine. How can you look at your own flesh and blood and be prepared to kill something made in your own image?
Yet somehow, I think that was a lesson that God was teaching Abe. The father must first kill or relinquish the image of himself that he’d projected into Isaac. Isaac needed to be freed of his father’s ideals before he could become the person God created him to be.
In other words, Abraham walked out of faith. He had to let go of his son, give him up and let God shape Isaac’s life. Abe had to trust that God alone could create an image of the holy in Isaac’s soul.
I once knew a kid who folks said looked a lot like his father. Yet he continued to disappoint his father every time he came home with poor grades or was suspended for fighting at school.
So the father relinquished the image he had for his son and released his care back to God. His son was allowed to make several more mistakes, but they were his mistakes, and they led him on his own faith journey.
And guess what? Once my dad let go, I think I turned out OK.
However, to my wife’s dismay, I did keep the part of my father’s image that loved dogs.
Excerpt from Norris Burkes’ upcoming book, “Thriving, Not Just Surviving.”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “Hero’s Highway.” Recorded comments are welcome at 843-608-9715. You may also send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.