Just days after the death of a loved one last year, I had to travel halfway across the country for a conference. Because I carried grief in my stomach, I couldn’t eat. Weakness from not eating, combined with the usual exhaustion from travel, had me feeling sick. At a lunch meeting, I couldn’t bring myself to explain why I wasn’t eating.
The beloved who had died was my dog, Belle. If I had been mourning the death of a person, my life would have been understandably put on hold. I wouldn’t have been expected to go to work the day following her death. I could have cancelled my trip.
When a family member dies, the bereft are offered sympathy, support, and condolences, from meals and visits, to cards and flowers, to the funeral service, burial, and beyond. Not so when the family member that dies is a pet. When we mourn the loss of a pet, we mourn alone. We go to work, we have our lunch meetings, and we come home. Perhaps we share our grief privately with other members of the household, but not, generally, with the world.
What can we learn from our pets?
I’m not suggesting that the death of a pet should be treated with the same moral, emotional, or social weight as the death of a person, but this kind of grief, the inconsolable grief that comes from losing a much-loved non-human companion, does have much to teach us about our humanity, our Creator, our relationship with both Him and His creation, and His immense love for us.
Unconditional love and loyalty
For some of us, the love we have for our pets, and the necessary grief that comes with their short lives increases the love we have to offer the world. The sheer gratuitousness of the love we give and receive from animals offers both a picture of and portal into the infinite, gratuitous love of God.
Loving the animals that God has given us responsibility for
Animals show us what our own fragility looks like before God. When we mourn these lesser creatures, we taste, I think, a bit of God’s sorrow over us in our human frailty. When we love fellow humans, we love as equals. When we love an animal, we bring with that love all the might and grace of one both in and above the world of that creature. It is like the love God has for us, with all the joy and grief we bring Him. As human is to divine, so animal is to human. I think perhaps we are no more like God than when we love an animal.
A note from JOY!
The same God who sent His only Son to die for humankind does not let one sparrow fall to the ground outside His care (Matt 10:29). He loves animals, but in the very next verse Jesus tells us that we are “worth more than many sparrows.” Your human relationships should also be “worth more” to you than your love for your pet.
KAREN PRIOR is a professor of English at Liberty University. This article was originally published by Christianity Today: www.christianitytoday.com