On Saturday, I drove up to spend the week with my family at our place on Lake Buckhorn, smack dab in the middle of Amish country in Ohio. Of course, with a nephew who is nearly two and a niece who is only twelve weeks, it has been an incredibly eventful trip.
Perhaps the scariest moment of all came when my nephew Benjamin began to play with our old family dog Cassie. She's a boxer of about twelve years, and if you know anything about purebred boxers, they get hip dysplasia something fierce. Cassie held out longer than most, but over the past couple of years her hindquarters have been deteriorating at a pretty rapid rate. Mentally she's altogether well, but she's barely able to walk and in some sporadic but significant pain. Most adults understand this means that we can't play around with her like we do other dogs.
But Benjamin had no clue. While the rest of us were getting dinner ready and feeding his sister Charlotte, Ben apparently grabbed at Cassie in a way that grieved her greatly, because she nipped at him. She didn't break the skin, but just enough to let him know that she was hurt and he couldn't touch her that way. Ben's hand was barely red (oddly, it looked more like a mosquito bite), but of course, he was scared and stung and cried like he lost a limb.
Now, you have to understand that she hasn't nipped at anyone since she was a puppy, and her temperament is amazing. When she was younger and I would have terrible days at school, she would burrow herself under my head and have me use her as a pillow, just to comfort me. How could this dog nip at my nephew and cause such great grief to someone I love?
You see, sometimes there is still sin in our ignorance. Ben had no idea what he was doing and just wanted to play with the puppy, but his ignorance caused Cassie great pain. Cassie had no idea her attempt at warning Ben of her own pain would send Ben into hysterics and cause pain of his own. But each action fractured our little familial community. Sin is just that, the things that cause divisions in our communities. Sometimes they are overt and we know the wounds we cause. At other times, like with Ben and Cassie, we just want to play, and to warn someone of our own pain, and in each situation, we further rupture our relationships.
The hardest part is that Matt, my brother and Ben's dad, brought Cassie home as a puppy as a Christmas present to my parents twelve years ago. She has always held a special place in his heart, and he in hers. But in that moment, something changed. Of course, he hasn't said anything (other than, "You're lucky, Cassie," indicating that her ignorance and poor health saved her a beating), but it seems like the pain emanates from his person. We all love Ben, and we all love Cassie, and we all know neither meant the other real pain. But toddlers and canines don't speak the same language, and so ignorance abounds, sometimes in ways that forever change the way we interact with one another.
So now we are extra careful with Ben around Cassie, never leaving the boy and the dog, both children of my brother, unattended. In the wake of sin, though, that seems like the first step toward reconciliation. It might seem easy to cordon off Cassie or to keep Ben from her. But instead, as a little vacationing community, we begin to figure out how to restore relationships, even as we protect the wounded parties, not just from one another, but from themselves. In fact, like most situations in life, we are focused on protecting Ben and Cassie from themselves more than we are protecting them from one another. Reconciliation requires this kind of intentional community that wants love for everyone enough to acknowledge the pain and the source, but even more so, to find a future that works for the best for all parties.
What we can't escape is that sometimes the wounds arise out of our ignorance. In fact, the ignorance of the community - of all of us who were paying attention to something other than Ben and Cassie - also had a sinful part to play in this brokenness. But with a commitment to reconciliation, we can find ways to healing and wholeness, even for the weakest and sickest amongst us. We can find ways to love one another, even after we wound one another.
That's hard work, especially for someone like Matt who feels responsible for both his son and the dog he brought home so many years ago. But it is work we have to do in order to enact our love toward one another in ways that seek the best for all members of our communities.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.