I never thought that I would be the kind of person to give up a pet. Pets are family. Once you bring them into your home, you have made a life commitment.
After only one week of living with a dog, I had serious doubts. I tried to remember the reasons why I had decided to adopt a dog. I thought a dog would make me happier. I expected it to help me relax, force me outside more, and connect me with people. Instead I felt more stressed, more lonely, and more unhappy.
It was in August. This is the loneliest time of year in Madrid. Many people leave the city for vacation. The entire month. Some stores and restaurants close completely until September. It is very quiet.
For me, this tends to bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. People suffering from SAD can experience symptoms similar to mild depression. Where I come from, SAD is associated with winter due to overcast skies and reduced daylight hours. You can easily go a month without seeing the sun.
August in Madrid arguably has too much sun, but I still felt miserable. My life was generally good, especially in comparison to most people on this planet. I had few real problems. Yet I couldn’t shake myself out of the funk. I wasn’t sleeping well. I spent most of my time alone at home. I questioned my purpose and life direction. Even prayer didn’t seem to help. Nothing made a difference.
So I decided to get a dog. I fixated on it. I convinced myself that life would be better with a dog. All the doors appeared to open, and most people were supportive of my decision. It just felt right.
And there were some bright moments. As far as rescue dogs go, I really don’t think I could have chosen one better. If any dog was going to make me happy, it should have been that one. But once the dog was in my home, I resented him more often than genuinely appreciated having him.
Instead of taking my problems away, the dog only added to them. I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility and worried about leaving the dog alone. He was social and attached to me quickly. I couldn’t even close the bathroom door without him whining from the other side. I wanted company, and I got it. Constantly. Training would have eventually helped, but I felt guilty about not giving him more attention. He had no one except me. And it was stifling.
It all snowballed until I knew he had to go. It was a humbling decision. I wanted to dig in my heels and make it work. But I finally realized giving him up was for the best, both for me and for the dog. He would be happier playing with the other dogs at the rescue and eventually going to a home that could give him the care and attention he deserves.
The experience made me reflect on the emptiness we humans often feel and the ways we try to fill it. I was confused why I didn’t feel fulfilled because everything seemed to point to it being the right time to get a dog. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and now I finally had the opportunity. So why didn’t it work?
I have a theory. I think God sometimes lets us have what we want so that we can see for ourselves that it is not what we need. It’s like hunger and food. Sometimes we get cravings for food that is pleasurable in the moment but will not ultimately satisfy us. My weakness is ice cream. There are nights that I would prefer to eat ice cream for dinner, but I know that I would wake up hungry later. Maybe I could get away with it for one night, but if I ate only ice cream every night, I’d eventually suffer the consequences of an unhealthy diet. I’d still be miserable even while pursuing what I want. Why? Because our bodies need more nutrients that ice cream can offer.
It was the same thing with my dog. I saw a dog as a meal and not a treat. I expected him to meet all my needs. I used him as a substitute for the only one who can satisfy my soul. But God knew that I still would need the experience in order to learn that. He is still teaching me, even after all these years, that he is irreplaceable.
When God seems silent or far away, it’s those times that we’ve stopped pursuing him and started taking him for granted. He withdraws for a time so that we can appreciate him more fully and recognize his importance. Distance gives us perspective.
La Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona is a huge church. You can appreciate some of its size when you’re standing across the street. But after visiting the basilica this year, I hiked to the top of an outlook where I could see the whole city. The basilica was in the middle of it all and towered over every other building. It stood out from the urban landscape. From up close, it was of course impressive and beautiful in its intricate details. But from the perspective of distance, the city seemed to revolve and focus around that one grand building. It was the heart of everything.
This is the intended effect when God seems distant. He hasn’t stopped caring. He hasn’t forgotten you. He is giving you priceless perspective.
Maybe I will get a dog someday. But if I do, I want it to be for the right reasons. I am thankful God taught me this lesson and showed me again his essential importance at the center of my life.