Gina Christian

“I’ll take the one in that last cage,” I said.

The animal shelter manager eyed me warily. “Are you sure? That dog was badly abused; she bites. And she’s at least 10 years old.”

I nodded and pulled out my checkbook to pay the adoption fee. Soon I was loading a scraggly, skittish Lhasa Apso into my truck, tucking her into a few old blankets I’d laid across the front seat.

Over the years, Heidi (as I’d named my new pet) went on to destroy at least four rugs, cost a few thousand dollars in vet bills, and utterly break my heart when she died in her sleep one night on my bed. She growled and snapped; attempts to groom her resulted in blood and tears, usually mine. One boyfriend refused to approach her; as our relationship (already rocky) ended, he demanded to know what I saw in “that miserable, matted creature.”

Maybe it was Heidi’s helplessness that tugged at my heart. For her, the world was a frightening place, one where survival was a matter of striking first, or risk being struck. I didn’t know the details of her past, but I did know that behind every snarl was some memory of being hurt, which had conditioned her to lash out.

Even as Christmas draws near, many people in this world are angry: angry at God, angry at each other, angry at themselves. Countless clashes, from mundane to major, break out across the globe on any given day.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen wisely observed that “a soul with a fight inside itself will soon have a fight outside itself with others.” And, he added, behind that fight was a terrible fear.

Americans are becoming more afraid, according to an annual survey by Chapman University. During 2018, almost 74 percent of us feared corrupt government officials; just under 62 percent of us were worrying about the pollution of our rivers, lakes and oceans. Not having enough money, losing loved ones to illness or death, global warming and high medical bills all round out the list of things that have been troubling us of late.

Yet one of the most common phrases throughout the Bible is “fear not.” So often does this command appear in Scripture (and so often do preachers remind us of the fact) that we tend to gloss over it, reaching instead for more common, albeit temporary, relief from anxiety — food, alcohol, sex, money, drugs, entertainment, possessions, power. And how inadequate such remedies are in providing the deep stillness of heart that comes from truly trusting the Lord.

Oddly, the more my dog Heidi bared her teeth and bit me, the more tender I felt towards her, and the more I wanted to win her over. But she was an animal, not a human; I couldn’t reason with her. All I could do was persist in kindness, ply her with dog treats and hope for the best.

Fortunately, the Lord had a much surer means of regaining the trust of his fallen creatures. Rather than leave us imprisoned by sin, he came softly and silently as starlight, revealing himself not in blinding splendor, but as an infant among the lowly so that we might approach him without terror. Only in such humility could he “grant us that … without fear we might worship him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:73-74).

At the end of her life, as she became blind and crippled, Heidi did allow me to care for her without resistance. And while I was grateful for those moments, I lamented that she hadn’t been able to trust me sooner, so that we could have enjoyed our few years together. 

This Christmas, let us surrender our hearts not to fear, but to the gentle God made man, who lays waiting for us in a manger, longing to melt our cares in his embrace.

***

Gina Christian is senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.