Walking our Faith: Unremarkable and underestimated
Walking our Faith
When Georgie came into my life, his presence was so unremarkable, I thought he’d passed away on my deck.
He was 10 years old when he arrived and weighed nearly 200 pounds. In dogs years, which is what Georgie was, 10 was the upper range for a giant breed. And 200 pounds is a big dog, no matter what breed he is.
Georgie didn’t so much walk as lumber. And on this particular morning, shortly after his arrival in my home, he’d gone out onto the deck to have a midmorning nap. After some time, I went out to check on him and was unable to rouse him or see that he was breathing. To be honest, I thought he’d passed away in his sleep.
Thankfully he hadn’t, but his stillness was a metaphor for the rest of his time with me. In comparison to my other Newfoundland dogs, his personality might have been considered unremarkable. He didn’t get excited, didn’t bark or wag his tail, and the fastest he moved was one speed above slow.
But one day, I saw Georgie’s true nature. I’d been fostering two young female Newfoundland dogs and on the day their new family, a mother and her 10-year-old daughter, came to adopt them, I witnessed something remarkable. When Georgie saw the young girl come into the room, it was as if years had suddenly been lifted. He jumped to his feet and quickly moved to her side. When she knelt down to hug him, his entire body wriggled with joy, and he wanted to play.
It was then that I remembered that Georgie had come from a family with young children. For him, the sight of this young girl must have reminded him of his lost family, a family who had given him up only because he had gotten old. And I had believed that because Georgie was old, he was incapable of joy.
The only brown Newfoundland dog I’ve ever adopted was Charlie. Being brown wasn’t the only notable difference between him and my other Newfies; he was short. And his personality was different than the typical Newfie. In general, Newfies are called nanny dogs because they not only love children, they want to be physically close to their family at all times. Charlie, not so much. When we went for walks through the woods, Charlie often wondered off on his own. When Henry and Georgie slept next to my bed, Charlie slept in another room.
I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t understand that Charlie was simply different — not bad, nothing wrong with him, just a dog who liked his space. I wonder how many young children have been misunderstood simply because they didn’t interact with other children at school in the same way?
And what is my part in this? A dog is a dog. It doesn’t tell me who it is, except through its behavior. But that behavior is often filtered through the lens of my bias. Henry was my first Newfoundland, and I measured every other dog who came into my home through the lens of Henry. This was unfair to Georgie and Charlie and Henry. Because in doing so, I diminished their right to be loved for being themselves.
I started this column thinking about Georgie and Charlie and ended up thinking about us. We are inclined to underestimate or misunderstand people we meet simply because they are different. They don’t share our religious beliefs, so they must be unenlightened. Their skin color is different than ours, so they must not share our longing for love, family and community. Rich and poor, successful and failures, we share a need to not only judge but also separate accordingly.
I am guilty of judging others by comparing them to an internal standard I’m comfortable with because that doesn’t require me to question my beliefs. I’m guilty of judging myself by standards I see in the wider world rather than to be comfortable in my own skin. As a woman closer to 60 than 50, what should I look like? What should I wear? What should I have achieved by now? But what if I considered my internal story instead of my outward appearance? And what if I extended that grace to people I meet?
The good news is that God knows we are as unique as the snowflakes that will soon blanket our mountains again. And God not only loves us as we are, he knows we are created with a purpose requiring the exact talents and traits for which others will judge us as different. This gift of God’s wisdom is for us to live into our lives.
My challenge is to drop my need to judge others and instead, extend the grace that God extended to me. When patience to hear another’s story replaces my need to judge, embracing our differences moves our world a step closer to heaven.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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