One of my greatest pleasures in life is getting to spend time with my sugar glider, Thor (if you thought this was about Marvel’s hero, sorry, but please keep reading!). Part of this is because he’s hilarious, super soft, a great heater in winter, etc., etc., brag, brag, brag, but it is also because I learn loads about how God feels about me when I spend time with him. So, without further ado, some spiritual lessons from having Thor.
First off, I should say that I don’t learn about any of these things just from Thor. My family and friends have taught me much about all of these as well, as well as God himself. However, it’s also worth noting that as a human, it’s pretty easy for me to muddy those other relational waters with all sorts of unfair and stupid human junk, whereas with Thor, his motives are usually much easier to navigate, mainly: eat, rub tiny chest on random things, get to tea, explore, and cuddle, which thereby makes it easier for me to keep the waters clear. Also, I adore animals, so I really think God just uses them to talk to me.
In any case, one of the first and most important lessons I’ve learned from having this little nugget is how much God delights in me. How? Well, easy. I just watch Thor and smile. That’s it. He just makes me happy by his very existence, and that’s how God feels about me. It’s great.
One of my favorite things about Thor is his tenacity. I’ve seen him climb to the top of things I’d never imagine, open containers I never thought he’d crack and more, all just because he wanted it. And while that’s certainly a lesson to me as I try to accomplish my own goals in life, I also learn about God from my own reactions to Thor’s endeavors. See, it’d be easy for me to just pick him up and put him on top of my bookshelf, or to pop open the top to his food container when he starts tugging at the lid, but every time I watch him wrestle with these tasks, I get the sense it would be cheating him to do so. It is better for him to have to face his own challenges because that’s how he learns. And the rewards, such as reaching the top or sneaking some pre-dinner snacks, seem so much more rewarding for him for the fact.
As a side note, that’s not to say that I never help him, just like how God doesn’t just leave us on our own, but it does help put things in perspective when I’m wondering why God isn’t stepping in directly to put my life completely straight on a regular basis.
Sugar gliders don’t make a lot of noises, but one of them is a small meeping noise called a “bark” (see below). It’s usually used to get somebody’s attention, such as if they’re bored or lonely.
Thor, whose bark is particularly piercing, typically does it in the middle of the night.
And yet, when he does it, when I know he wants my attention, there is very little I wouldn’t do to make sure he knows I’m there. I’ve spent more than one night sleeping on the floor just so he can see me, and believe me, the feeling I get when my presence calms him is amazing. And sure, I’m not likely to get back to sleep most nights unless I talk to him barring just letting him bark himself out (I tried it maybe once or twice and it was a terrible, terrible feeling. I haven’t even considered it in years), but even when I’m exhausted I know that’s not my only–or often my main–motivation for tending him. The fact is, I want him to know that I’m there, that he’s not alone. My heart is stirred at his cry. How often have I assumed God wasn’t there, that He didn’t want to be with me, when in fact it is the opposite? God doesn’t sleep of course, but even if He did, He wouldn’t care if I woke Him up in the middle of the night. He loves me and hears my cry.
The only other time Thor really barks is if he gets spooked. Now he’s a little blind in one eye and sometimes darts in front of me, so I know the causes of some barking fits (Sorry Thor!), but other times he just does it, and I have no idea why. It’s during these fits that I can’t really do anything to stop it, either. I can reach into his cage, give him a treat, and offer to let him out, but usually it doesn’t help, or at least not for long. He just huddles up in the back of his cage or behind his exercise wheel, refusing to be comforted. And it sucks, because I know that once I’m there, he doesn’t have to worry. I will take care of him. If he needs anything, I can provide.
It’s a humbling reminder of my own refusal to accept God’s comfort sometimes, but it’s also a reminder of God’s heart behind wanting to help. It’s not like I just want Thor to shut up or stop whining (although, I’ll admit I do sometimes find it frustrating, whoops). Rather, it pains me to see him unhappy or scared, for him not to feel safe and cared for when I’m right there ready and willing to help.
I could certainly stand to remember who’s in front of me when I’m scared more often too. Thanks, God!
If I were a sugar glider, I’d probably look a bit like Thor. Mostly blind in one eye from a cataract, missing some tail fur from when I was gone for a week, and missing a toe from taking on a pet he shouldn’t have, the point is that even during his short life so far, he’s gotten a little banged up. And the funny thing is, I adore him for it. Rather than making him less lovable, it adds character to him and his story that I just love, even if it makes him a little less lovely by worldly standards. He’s precious to me, and while there are things I wish he hadn’t done or wouldn’t do (like trying to take on a rat or biting me), I don’t think of that when I look at him or think about him, I think of how much I love him, and of all of the good things I associate with him (like spunk or courage). It’s pretty easy for me to assume God just loves staring down at all my mistakes and flaws. Thor helps remind me of the good that God chooses to see instead.
So yeah, those are some lessons I’ve learned over the last five years. What lessons have you learned from your pets (or wild animals or precious house plants)? How have you grown spiritually as a result of having them?
Have a great Fourth of July everybody!