Recently, our daughter flew in from Florida to Ohio for an extended family gathering. One of her “requirements” during her weeklong visit was spending a day at the Columbus Zoo. Our family has been members there for decades and has spent many an hour bonding while watching the wildlife. This time, however, we saw something we’d never seen before when we toured the new Africa section. As we walked through the area observing the unique animals of Africa, we saw the typical animals of the region: lions (including a pair of adorable cubs) and warthogs and gnus. We saw monkeys and my favorite, the giraffes, but then we came to the enclosure where they keep the cheetahs. The two cheetahs inside raced around, chasing each other through their area, looking a lot like any pair of playful cats would. But suddenly out of nowhere appeared this big yellow dog.
I have to admit my first fear was that somehow the dog had gotten into the pen with the cheetahs and that we were about to witness some real ugliness watching the law of the jungle in action. Instead, the dog joined in the play as the three chased each other over and around the obstacles of the arena. It was then I read the sign that said the dog had been raised with the cheetahs since they were babies.
Once we realized the dog was meant to be there, it was a little bit of a disappointment because we thought we were seeing an African dog breed, not your local Labrador, but the story around the cheetah-dog relationship was nevertheless an intriguing one. Apparently, this is a practice used universally as dogs served as ambassadors, helping to serve as a relational “bridge” between the wild cheetah and humans. It was the relationship the dog had with the animals that helped the cheetahs to have a better relationship with humans. From the human point of view, this was a seriously planned-out project but from the dog and cheetah’s point of view, they were buddies. You could tell by the way they interacted, there was a real friendship going on in that area. The dog thought the cheetahs were dogs and the cheetahs thought the dog was a cheetah. They had no fear of each other but rather played together as any ordinary friends would. They would chase each other, roll all over each other, and actually pass a ball back and forth. They were pals.
Too often these special relationships are hard to find in life. We may have over 500 “friends” on Facebook and 200 more following us on Twitter but the question we need to ask ourselves is if we have any really true pals, friends in the truest sense of the word. Are we friends who will be there for one another, truly interacting with one another, or are we simply names on a roll? In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon highlights this relationship: “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, NIV).
In Solomon’s words, we see that a great friend is truly a treasure but there is also a warning: Unreliable friends will lead you down the wrong path and get you in trouble. There is a song that goes something like “make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.” Our friends are the treasure of our lives. A true friend, a real pal will be there for us when we are at our best—and at our worst. They will help steer us away from trouble and situations that might lead us in a wrong path. Pals are the best treasure we can ever have here on earth.
Who do you have in your life who is closer than a brother or sister? Who is your pal? Who will stick with you even when it seems the world is against you? If you have no one like this in your life, then I encourage you to pray God to send someone into your life who will stick to you closer than a brother, someone with whom you can call pal.
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