I knew something was wrong the moment I walked inside.

The distinct lack of our ten-year-old dog, Bay, coming to greet me—that was clue number one. Clue number two came in the form of a packet of gum with several pieces ripped out, lying in the middle of the living room floor. Some bits half-chewed. Some not. I guess his latest conquest didn’t agree with him.

Sighing heavily, I called Bay once. Twice. Three times.

Some people say animals aren’t all that clever, but Bay knew he’d done wrong. The moment he came out into the hall and saw the empty gum wrapper in my hand, he froze. Averted his gaze and licked his lips. Sloooowly sat down, tail sheepishly thumping the floor.

How did he know he’d misbehaved? Simple. This was (by far) not the first time my husband and I chastised old Bay on his food-raiding habits. Whatever family had him for the eight years before he became our boy, they taught him stealing food is a no-no, too. But he keeps doing it anyway. He just can’t seem to help himself.

Scolding a dog for misbehaving is one of my least-favorite things to do—right down there with eating lima beans and setting up doctor’s appointments. Yet even when I no-no’d at Bay, reminding him gum is really not good for dogs (as if he could actually understand me, I know), I felt not anger, but an overwhelming amount of love in my heart.

Isn’t that just like God and us?

If my Bay is a food-raider, I’m a sin-raider. I know I shouldn’t do X, Y, or Z. I know these things are bad for me, that they get me in trouble, that they’re against what God wants me to do and what He wants for me. Yet, like the Apostle Paul, I find myself drawn back frequently into that pattern again—doing the things I don’t want to do. Stealing food off the sin-table. Ripping into all the garbage of life.

I’m like my Bay. I just can’t seem to help myself.

I used to wonder a lot more often how God could actually still love me when I’m such a screw-up, such a hopeless repeat-offender, such a chronic sin-raider. But slowly I gain greater and greater understanding as I interact with an old dog who just can’t learn the new trick of leaving food or the garbage can untouched.

I scold him knowing he’s likely going to get in trouble again. I clean up the mess with full awareness it won’t be the last one ever. And as I watch Bay avoid my gaze, tail and ears drooping sadly, I remember that he and I aren’t so different. Whatever that thing is in us that compels us to do what we shouldn’t, in the end what we both need is a firm word and gentle love.

How does God still love me despite my sin? Simple. For the same reason I love Bay even when he misbehaves.

Because I’m His, as Bay is mine.

So I latch the trash can and push the gum packs to the center of the dining table and check for any other temptations lying around for his hungry little eyes. Then I give Bay a little toe-scratch on the back, just to remind him he’s loved.

Thump-thump-thump goes that hopeful tail. And I can hardly contain all the love in my heart as I smile at him.

Yep. There’s a lesson to be learned about love despite all our flaws—between me, God, and the dog who ate my gum.