This morning when I pulled into church I found some very unexpected visitors. Nine adorable little puppies were apparently left here overnight in a cardboard box lined on bottom with a black garbage bag. My heart was immediately broken and my first reaction was anger: who would do this? I made a couple phone calls to some true pet lovers and found the best place in town to take care of them and find them a home.
As I drove them over there, I was comforted by the fact that they were going to be adopted quickly. These were tiny puppies, probably not even fully weaned, and I knew that compared to all the older dogs in the adoption center there would be a lot of children ready to embrace these little pups. So my comfort was suddenly tinged with a nice blend of sadness and guilt when I thought of the older less cute dogs that would be left (thanks Sarah McLachlan, Warning: In the Arms of the Angel).
I wondered, at what age do the dogs become unworthy of love?
The answer of course is never. Of course, they deserve love always .Of course that’s how we make our decisions on who to love and who to take care of. Of course every one of God’s creatures, whether four legged or two, is equally valuable. And of course every one deserves a fair chance. Of course we give it to them and design our society to make that happen. Of course. Right?
I wonder now, at what age do people become unworthy of our love?
If you have ever seen a child sleeping, as I love to watch my boys, you cannot help but be overcome with a sense that this living, breathing being though small and in many ways weak, is nonetheless the most valuable and important thing in existence. And it doesn’t matter if that child is white or black or brown. It doesn’t matter if she sleeps in a designer bed or on a makeshift palette on the floor. Of course this child deserves to be loved and nurtured and given every opportunity possible. Of course.
So at what age does a person no longer deserve love? At what point does a person lose their right to a fair shot?
For every baby blissfully snoozing with that cute baby snore there’s
- An 87 year old woman without any family left who sits in front of her nursing home waving at total strangers hoping they’ll stop for a chat
- A 76 year old inmate wrongfully accused but on death row (or even if guilty, I wonder, who would Jesus kill?)
- A 68 year old woman living on the streets because she was born with a mental handicap
- Another prisoner, this one 57, who stole $50 from a store when he was 16 and has never been able to escape privately run prisons that profit from his incarceration (did you know that ⅔ of released prisoners will be arrested again within 3 years?)
- 40-something middle class parents signing their bankruptcy papers because their son needed an emergency life-saving surgery to the tune of $150,000
- A 32 year old single mom working 60 hours a week but still unable to live in a safe home for her children.
- A 22 year old college graduate rewarded with a diploma and a $40,000 student loan who can’t find a job because she is either overqualified or needs 5 years experience.
- A 14 year old teen with incredible computer programming skills, musical abilities, and also severe autism, who stays in his room all day, increasingly disillusioned at a world that has judged and rejected him at every turn.
- A 6 year old boy who is zoned for an elementary school, middle school and high school that are grossly underfunded and are only unique for producing dropouts.
So in that list above, where do you draw the line? At what age do we stop deserving love? At what age do we lose our right to a fair chance?
Puppies need good homes. But there’s something even more beautiful and powerful when that ragged 14 year old lifetime stray finds a home that will love her for the rest of her life.
It is good to love and nurture innocent children. It is good to love people like you. But there is something much more beautiful and powerful when you cross the aisle or the railroad tracks, when you forgive someone seventy times seven times, or when you leave the 99 to bring back the 1 wayward soul, or when you love the very person you’re not supposed to.
As Christians our call to love doesn’t have an age limit. There is no three strike rule. It doesn’t make sense and frankly most of the time it sucks, but it is the only way.