This is Sammy, our quirky, lovable, ten year old Golden Retriever.

I need to confess that lately he has been driving me crazy. Somehow he is constantly underfoot, mooching and needy and begging and more in touch with his codependent Golden Retriever side than ever before. I don’t always mind needy, but Sam has taken it to a new level, and I regularly find myself rolling my eyes and saying, “Sam! Go lay down! What is your problem?”

Owning a Golden Retriever means having lots of dog hair around the house.  My husband often starts twitching if he hasn’t turned on the vacuum in 24 hours because the dog hair gets so out of control. The tufts of hair that float across the floor when I walk to the door are my personal favorite. After a long, hairy winter, we usually drag Sam to the vet/groomer and say, “Shave him!” It is good way to clean up his matted fur and gives us a short break from all of the shedding. Sam walks around a little embarrassed at his nakedness, but overall he doesn’t seem to mind being a little more exposed.

The other day, McKenzie and I picked him up from the groomer, and he ran out all excited to see us, newly shaved and cleaned. As I was paying, McKenzie shoved Sam onto the scale and announced his weight. Half listening, I finally processed the number and quickly looked in her direction. “Are you sure you weighed him right?” She pushed him up on the scale again and sure enough, the same number popped up. I looked at him and saw how boney he looked without all that hair, and I tried to hide my concern. The vet looked at Sam’s file and said, “He’s lost ten pounds since September.” My eyes widened, and I took a deep breath. “Ten pounds? That’s a lot!” The woman smiled and said, “Just feed him a bit more and let’s see how he is in a few weeks.” I nodded, looked at my daughter as she wrapped her arms around Sam’s neck, and tried to shake the thought out of my head that something was desperately wrong with our dog.

It has only been a week since Sam stood on the scale, but with an extra helping of food every day, he acts like a different dog. He is excited to eat every meal I give him, but he isn’t driving me crazy with his constant needy presence. I am not sure why I didn’t realize his issue was hunger. I just thought in his old age he was becoming needier, deciding that his mission in life should be to drive me crazy. He doesn’t seem as anxious or neurotic, and he actually seems more content than I have seen him in a really long time. I have spent a lot time beating myself up this week and have officially awarded myself worst dog owner of the year. How did I not figure out that Sam’s issue was hunger?

This makes me think about my own hunger. Please indulge me while I make a spiritual analogy out of my failure as a pet owner. Sam was so covered with fur that I didn’t notice the obvious physical changes that were occurring because of his lack of nourishment. His extra layers hid all that was happening beneath the surface. If I am honest, I think I am often unaware of all the ways that I am emotionally or spiritually hungry. I wear the coat of busyness or productivity; if I feel any twinge of hunger, I often just ignore it and try to fill myself with other things instead. Often though, when I ignore all that is going on in my heart, the symptoms of starvation became increasingly evident in my closest relationships. I grow needy and irritable, almost as bad as a dog underfoot in the kitchen before dinner. Exhaustion often seeps to the surface, and I am not as engaged and connected as I want to be and realize that I am not doing any of this very well. My relationships suffer when I relate from a place of hunger.

It also helps me to realize that we are all hungry. I am so much more patient with Sam right now because I understand more of what his issue has been. If we could look at each other with more grace than judgment and pray for eyes to see all that is really going on under the surface, our relationships would be marked much more with love than with anger and frustration.

The other morning, I stood on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street. I stepped off of the curb, but quickly jumped back as a frantic driver sped through the red light. When it was finally safe to cross, a man dressed in gray slacks and a nice sweater smiled as he passed me. He laughed and said, “I guess we can’t trust when the sign says ‘walk’ can we?” I smiled back and replied, “Isn’t that the truth today!” As he leaned towards me to wish me a happy day, I was surprised to smell alcohol on his breath. He didn’t fit my typical picture of someone who might be drinking by 9:00am. I thought about him the rest of the morning and wondered about his struggle. We don’t always know what people are carrying deep below the surface.  We are often masters at presenting ourselves in such a way that no one would even suspect that we are burdened by our lives. If we removed all of the layers, what would we find? If others really let us see all that they carry, would they be met with grace and compassion or judgment?

My tendency is to want to wrap this up with a nice bow that includes three easy steps for dealing with hunger. Deep down though I know I can’t. Hunger can be messy. Sometimes no matter how much we love or pursue or remain compassionate, the people we love will continue to fill themselves in destructive ways. For me, it begins with a lot of prayer and a willingness to be honest about my own hunger. Hunger isn’t a bad thing. It is often in our most empty places that God reveals Himself the most.