I didn’t grow up with pets, so when our children asked my husband and me if we could get a bunny, the answer was clear. A pet simply didn’t fit into our lifestyle. This is particularly the case because as missionaries, we are required to travel often to visit supporting churches and families. But our girls began to pray, and the Lord answered their faith-filled petition.
The love that they shared with this beautiful, furry little creature went beyond anything I expected. It wasn’t uncommon to hear it said, “Dumbledore is my best friend,” while he bathed our daughter’s face in licks and kisses. To our surprise, my husband and I were taken by him, too. This little rabbit wove his way into all our hearts.
Then, one morning, he woke up lethargic and still. My husband paid careful attention to him while our girls got ready for school. Shortly after Dan returned from dropping them off, Dumbledore’s little body suddenly began spasming and, despite all of our efforts, he died in our arms.
After crying together and recovering from the shock, we decided to bring our girls home to say goodbye to their beloved friend before taking him to be cremated. As we have processed this loss over the past few days, here are a few lessons we’ve sensed the Lord teaching us and our daughters:
All Creatures are God’s Creatures
Psalm 50:10-11 teaches us this principle: “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” While this truth may seem self-evident, we often forget it. Especially if we focus on humanity to the exclusion of the rest of creation. Yet the Bible paints the picture of a Creator who delights in bringing forth a variety of swarming creatures to fill the sea, flying creatures to fill the sky, and livestock and creeping creatures to fill the land (Genesis 1).
We see his care for the animal kingdom once again when he ensures its survival at the Flood, alongside with that of humanity (Genesis 7). And we see it yet again in Nineveh, when the reluctant prophet Jonah laments God’s sparing the city, and the LORD answers him with these words, “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know right from left, plus many animals?” (Jonah 4:11). Throughout its pages, Scripture bears witness of God’s concern for animals: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10). While we should never make of the creature an idol to bow down before (Romans 1:25), we find in the Bible every reason to protect and preserve the animals the Lord has placed under our care.
Love Comes with a Price
Is it possible to love without being hurt? Without experiencing loss? This can come in many forms, whether it’s having to say goodbye to dear friends due to a move, or enduring the pain of a broken romantic relationship. I asked my older daughter, “Do you wish you’d never loved Dumbledore so you wouldn’t have to experience this pain?” Her instantaneous response was, “No. He was worth the pain.” She has well understood the adage, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Death is Inevitable
Wouldn’t we love to protect our children from the bitterness and sorrow of death? Yet, even if we made every effort to shield them from such pain, death is an inevitable part of life (1 Corinthians 15:22). I was sheltered from death until I was an adult, both because I never met any of any of my grandparents save one (and him only briefly as a small child), and because I never experienced the loss of a pet. Three years ago, my daughters were bereaved of a beloved grandfather (my father), and now they’ve lost a dear rabbit. And though we don’t want to be overly morbid, this is an opportunity to reminded them that one day each of us will die. So, while I wish they’d never had to endure such grief, they understand the pain and inevitability of death in ways I wish I had at their age. And it has produced a tenderness and compassion in them that is beautiful.
We Don’t Always Have the Answer to Big Questions
“Is Dumbledore in heaven or in hell?” asked our younger daughter. We comforted her with the knowledge that her bunny was not in hell, since he was not guilty of sin. Animals are subject to the effects of the Fall (including death), but they themselves did not rebel against God (Romans 5:12). And one day God promises to redeem all of creation, and not just humanity (Romans 8:21-22).
Even still, we couldn’t reassure her that he was in heaven. Of course, we know that only human beings, made in the image of God, have souls that can never die (Genesis 1:27). But the Scriptures gives us glimpses of God’s eternal reign. And in these visions of glory, humanity and animals live in perfect harmony (Isaiah 11:6, 65:25). Since we know, therefore, that animals will be present in heaven, is it possible that this will include pets whom God could create anew for his glory and our pleasure? I don’t know, but it’s possible. The Bible simply doesn’t answer these questions. And we’ve had to help our children understand that we will only receive answers to these and many other such questions when we are forever with the Lord.
God has Placed Eternity in our Hearts
Do you ever wonder why the human spirit longs for immortality? Why the quest for the “fountain of youth” led so many explorers to search for this mythical place in the New World? Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God “has placed eternity into man’s heart.” We long for something beyond this life because we live in a broken, fallen world. When our girls feel the weight of this brokenness, we remind them that to those who put their trust in Christ, a life free of sorrow and tears awaits them. And in light of the length and weight of eternity, their present burdens and pain are momentary and light: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Sorrow isn’t Measured on a Scale
Are a child’s visceral tears shed over the loss of a pet any less real than my own over the loss of a loved one? As we see the world around us groaning under the collective weight of this pandemic, it would be easy to minimize our daughter’s sorrow by comparing it to the loss of human life related to COVID. Yet, while we do remind them that eternity is at stake for the men and women who are dying all around us, we dare not minimize their pain. Because it’s real, and we want to hold their hearts through it.
God is Sovereign
Does a sparrow fall to the ground without our Heavenly Father knowing of it? (Matthew 10:29) In the same way, our Heavenly Father was there as Dumbledore breathed his last breath. While our girls may not understand why their bunny was taken from them so suddenly, they can find comfort from knowing that the Lord is good, wise, and able, and he is in control.
My husband and I don’t have easy answers for the tough questions we’ve fielded in the past days. But we thank the Lord for the opportunity to shepherd our girls through this dark valley. I’m so thankful that as our children have processed this loss, their prayers have demonstrated their own growth. They’ve gone from asking, “Why did God take our bunny from us?” to praying, “Thank you, Father, for the time you gave us with Dumbledore.” May the Lord give us all wisdom to help our children face death with faith, entrusting their hearts to the Good Shepherd who walks with us all through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).