By Cory Barnes
Tychicus was the name of Paul’s ministry companion who delivered Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Tychicus was also the name of the Chocolate Lab my parents gave me for Christmas in December of 2005. I named the dog Tychicus—usually called Tick—so that when people asked about the name I could tell them about the biblical Tychicus as a bridge to sharing the gospel. This never quite worked the way I planned. God never used Tick’s unusual name to bring someone to Christ, but he did use Tick to “encourage my heart” in a way similar to how he used the man Tychicus to encourage the hearts of the Ephesians two millennia ago. My mom called me this morning to tell me that Tick died in his sleep last night.
I feel heavy today because Tick is dead. I have not talked to anyone about it except for my wife Kayla. I don’t want to come across as one of those people who fall apart because their dog died. I have tried to appeal to my rational nature to assuage my sadness. “Tick was just an animal,” I tell myself, “his death is not like human death.” There is no injustice, no need for public lament, no reason to be sad. But I am sad.
I want to know why I feel sad; I don’t like experiencing things without a reason.
I have tried to spiritualize the situation. I wondered if I might be sad because Tick dying reminds me of some injustice, or maybe that his dying weighs heavy because it forces me to confront one of the realities of living in a world cursed by sin. But that is not why I am sad. I am sad because my dog died and I will miss him. I will miss him because he was a good dog and because he was mine.
Tick was my constant companion in high school and college. He and I tracked wounded deer for hunters, walked hundreds of miles on backpacking trips, and swam in swimming holes most people do not know exist. He was so patient and loyal that he could sit in the floor of my canoe when we went down the river and never turn the boat over. He was kind to all our fellow travelers, a welcome addition to any campground, rest stop, or friend’s home.
When I lived at my parent’s home, Tick’s rightful resting place was on the bed at my feet. When he got in a car I was driving, he had the shotgun seat—a position he surrendered to Kayla with great hesitation. He was always happy and never tired.
As I have reflected on Tick’s death I have realized what a wonderful gift he was. My parents could not have known when they gave him to me for Christmas nearly eleven years ago that I would enjoy him so much. But Tick was not just a gift from my parents, he was a gift from God.
There is a term all Christians must have in our theological vocabularies if we are to make sense of the world. The term is “common grace.” Most often when Christians speaks of grace they mean “special grace” that is the type of grace through which God works his saving purposes. Only those God has redeemed through the blood of Jesus experience special grace, but all people know common grace. God’s special grace rightly enjoys a more prominent place in the worship, teaching, and preaching of the church, for by the special grace of the gospel, God is redeeming the church. But God in his glory does not limit his goodness to special grace alone. To all people he offers common graces like sunsets and friendships and Bach’s cello suites and good dogs.
Common graces are temporary, at least they are in this fallen world in which we live. I don’t know if they were before the fall. Maybe if Adam had a good dog and had not sinned he would have had him forever.
Tick is dead and the common grace God was so good to pour out on me is gone. My sadness is also temporary, there are so many more good things in my life on which to dwell. But in this momentary sadness over a temporary blessing I want to thank God for the common grace of owning a good dog and the fact that all common graces point me towards something far better.
Thank you God for Tick. When I reflect on the common grace of owning a good dog may it make me appreciative of the greater graces you have given me such as my family and friends. May all common graces I encounter point me to the grace you are pouring out on me through the gospel—the loss of which I will never grieve.