Saturday, August 28, 2010


Sometimes--most times, actually--when I am in the kitchen cooking or doing some other form of food preparation, Oscar will come clicking in there (nails against the hardwood floor) and station himself either on the mat in front of the sink so he has an unobstructed view of my profile, or on the other side of the kitchen peninsula so that he can make direct eye-contact with me. From either position he will sit on his haunches and stare and stare and stare at me with his sad, pleading doggy eyes . . . as if I never fed him anything in his life.

Except that of course I have, and some of it has been people-food, and that is precisely why he knows he can come to me and silently beg--because he knows me and he knows I love him and that sometimes, if he and food are in the same place at the same time, they might actually get to meet up.

His chances of getting a little taste of something are actually pretty good, particularly if I am utilising eggs or cheese . . . or green beans . . . or avocado . . . Sometimes I don't indulge him; I won't give him anything with tomato or onion or garlic or grapes or chocolate, all of which are reputedly doggy-destructive. It doesn't matter how enthralled he is with the smell of frying onions (and really? who isn't?) . . . I'm never going to give him any. But with most other things I feel that a tiny little bite isn't going to hurt, and it's going to make him really happy.

One day this week Oscar came in when I cracked an egg into a bowl. I almost invariably give him egg. But I kind of wanted to finish making the entire breakfast, so I decided I'd give him a little piece when everything else was ready. He sat hopefully in the kitchen for a very long time, but eventually he must have decided I wasn't going to give him anything this time, because he got up and loped back into the living room. (It's kind of tough for such a little dog with such clicky toenails to lope, but on occasion he still manages it.) I guess he figured if he wasn't going to get his preferred option of some Jenn-food, he was going to take the second best thing and chill out on the comfort of the couch. "Too bad for him," I thought to myself. "I guess he's just not interested enough." If he had stayed in the kitchen, I definitely would have given him a taste, but I wasn't going to go bring it out to him on the couch . . .

That day, he ended up coming back into the kitchen for one more try, which was rewarded. But he doesn't always, so it isn't always. Sometimes he will stay in the kitchen until I clear everything away and return to my computer in the living room, just in case I might decide to give him something. And sometimes he misses out because he isn't patient enough and decides not to stick around.

I got to thinking about it, and started wondering if sometimes praying isn't like that. Some things, I suppose, would be to me what tomatoes and onions would be to a dog--no matter how good I think they "smell," it would not be loving of God to let me have them. But I suspect most things aren't like that, actually. And I wonder how many things I miss out on because I feel God's taking so long to get them ready, and I just assume His answer is no, and He's being a killjoy, and so I go off into the living room to sulk on the couch. I wonder if sometimes God doesn't give me what I ask for, not because it's the wrong thing, but because I have gotten impatient and stopped trusting Him and His timing and taken myself out of the right-place-at-the-right-time.

Maybe not, but I wonder . . .


Jeff said...

Wierdly, (or perhaps not) my brain went in precisely the opposite direction.
Ignoring is a well-known and often reccomended tactic in behavior management when the kid (or animal, I guess) is engaged in annoying, but non-dangerous behavior.
The caveat that gets less focused on about ignoring is that the annoying behavior can be expected to increase in frequency for some time before the behavior extinguishes. Authority figures (such as teachers or pet owners) unwittingly reinforce annoyances by caving in and recognizing the behavior when they are to prepared to wait out these increases in frequency.
I guess the theological direction my own brain went in, around all this is that perhaps we sometimes pray for things that God knows would be quite destructive. Because we've grown up in a world where the squeaky wheel often gets oiled because squeaky wheels are annoying, we have this idea when our prayers go unanswered that we just need to ask for it again, and again, and again.
Perhaps sometimes our prayers go unanswered because God is above and beyond annoyance, so he never reinforces our destructive tendencies.
I think that I'm not disagreeing, just find it funny that my own brain went in the opposite direction.

Jennwith2ns said...

Interesting points, Jeff. I don't think it's weird that your brain went that way; I think most of the time I assume that's why God doesn't give me what I ask (when He doesn't)--either it's really bad for me and I don't know it, or He's sick of my whining about it.

You're right that giving in to annoying behaviours reinforces them, and I honestly don't think that God is beyond getting annoyed. I suggest that, "Who gave man his mouth?" after Moses kept making excuses for not going to free the Israelites from Egypt was one manifestation of His ability to get annoyed. (I'd include His response to the Israelites' making of the golden calf, too, except that I suspect that went beyond annoyance.)

The "insight" or whatever it was that led to this post was kind of one of those "aha" moments, or at least a "huh" moment, and I think it came in part from the semiconscious realisation that Oscar's begging DOESN'T annoy me. Sometimes I don't give in to it because what he wants is bad for him, or because I have this idea that I shouldn't give in to it all the time, but it isn't because I want to try to stop the behaviour. I think it's cute. I find him delightful.

I guess part of that is because he's my dog and I love him; I am less tolerant, say, of the Milk Guy's chihuahua's begging (although I like her, too) and I wouldn't anticipate that you, for example, would find Oscar's pleading eyes as endearing as I do. But I think that's something I often forget--just because *I* would find it irritating to have a person asking me over and over and over again for the same thing doesn't actually mean that God does. I only expect it of Him because I have a pretty low threshold for irritating demanding people, and a pretty insufficient understanding of how crazy God is about me.

I can't really think of any Bible verse where we're told to stop asking for stuff. Even when the topic of praying within God's will comes up, no one ever says to stop praying about things. But there are a whole lot of verses, including the "keep on asking and it will be given to you" and the parable about the woman who keeps bugging the judge until she gets a favourable judgment, that make it sound like God actually WANTS us to pester Him a bit.

Generally speaking, I myself would rather surprise someone with something before they even ask, and as soon as they ask for it, I feel less inclined to give it. But this week I noticed that I don't feel that way about Oscar. I love when he asks me for stuff. I love that he depends on me and that he's interacting with me . . . even if it's just so he can have a taste of cheese. And I guess when I noticed it, it was different enough from how I usually feel about things, and similar enough to what Jesus says about asking God, that it seemed to take the whole prayer-request thing in a new direction than I normally think about it.

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