A Time to Speak & A Time to be Silent

To bark or not to bark?

That is the question at the heart of my current work with our six month old Lab mix puppy. Summer has an acute sense of hearing and awareness of her surroundings. As soon as something sounds or looks out of the ordinary, she responds by barking.

Now in my book a well-placed bark is something to be valued. It should be used as a greeting or warning when a car enters the driveway or a person walks onto the porch. Barking at a truck rumbling down the road, or at the Carolina Wren perched outside the window scolding the cat, or at the puppy reflection in the window is not necessary.

To help Summer learn when to speak and when to remain silent we’ve been spending a lot of time sitting together and taking in the world around us. Our porch is a perfect practice place. Several times a day, I’ll slip outside with the dogs following close behind. Adi, my silent shadow, always settles next to my chair. Summer usually settles between me and the door. As soon as I see her ears perk up, I begin explaining what she is seeing or hearing with a reassuring tone that says, “All is well.” If she barks, I give a firm “No!” When she quiets, I praise her.

More and more I find her giving a quiet, solitary “woof” then turning her head and looking at me for a response. When she hears the soothing tones of my voice, she settles back down silently, content just to listen or watch. When she doesn’t hear my voice, she continues barking knowing it’s an appropriate response.

In working with Summer, I realized there’s something in this lesson I needed to learn and practice. I confess that moments come when I want to break into a barking frenzy like our Lab puppy. Moments in which I see change I don’t like or a person’s words or behaviors make no sense. Before opening my mouth to speak, I need to pause and look to the Lord first. In doing so . . .

He will calm my spirit so that I listen longer to gain understanding (James 1:19; Proverbs 3:5)

He will guard my tongue from uttering fruitless words (Psalms 141:3)

He will encourage me to speak wise words that bring life not death (Proverbs 18:21)

I close with a prayer that has been often on my lips as of late. Lord, help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Amen [James 1:19]

To everything, there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b

40 thoughts on “A Time to Speak & A Time to be Silent

  1. What a wonderful lesson for us humans from your sweet pup Summer! Our son and DIL adopted a lab mix in May, and it has been a slow process training her to refrain from barking when not necessary. Never even thought to apply the experience to my own “training.” I’ll have to add another request to my prayers: “Help me, Lord to become a quiet, solitary woofer and not a barker!” Thank you, Beth!

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    1. Thank you Nancy! As you said, training a pup not to bark is a slow process. I hope your son and daughter-in-law are seeing the fruit of their training and are enjoying all the fun and love that comes with a Lab! I love your prayer. Lord may I too be a solitary woofer and not a barker.

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    1. That is the funniest story Nora. I love happy dog tails. If only Miles and Summer could do a little trading. He could give her some of his silence and she could give him a solitary door bell greeting bark that says hello to people standing on your doorstep.

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    1. So true Sandra! How often I have wished that my words were on a retractable leash and at the flip of a button they’d come on back and stay where they belonged-in my mouth. I guess that is why self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Only with the Holy Spirit’s help can my tongue be controlled.

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    1. You know Pastor Pete she really has come a long way in her 4 months with us. I couldn’t be more pleased with her progress. Things that used to trigger a frenzy of barking doesn’t even phase her now. I too wish I could see that quick of progress in myself. I’ll just keep singing the song, “He’s still working on me/ to make me what I ought to be/ It took him just a week to make the moon and stars/ The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars/ How loving and patient He must be/ ‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me”

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    1. That’s a good question Mr. Oh! Our black Lab is very quiet, only barking when necessary. I know several Labs like her. So I don’t know if it’s a general trait of Labradors but it sure does seem like it. Our puppy Summer has a dose of Weimaraner mixed into her Labrador. Although a great sportdog breed, they are known to be protective which comes with a natural tendency to bark. I often see the breed conflict playing out in Summer like deciding whether to lay quietly and watch the world go by or give her humans regular updates of the minutest change.

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  2. scribelady

    Beth, thanks for your post and the reminder to chose the times to speak and how we speak wisely. Somehow, lessons illustrated by animals are easier to “swallow” and remember.

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  3. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check” (James 3:1-2).

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    1. As a little girl I learned a song with a stanza that goes, “Be careful little tongue what you say for the Father up above is looking down in love. So, be careful little tongue what you say.” I truly wish I could control that tongue, but I know I need much more than good intentions. To takes James analogies in chapter three a step further I need the Holy Spirit to put a bit in my mouth and take control of the reigns of my tongue; I need Him to douse it with living water.

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  4. So much wisdom here…beautiful post! We often react quickly, when really we need to stand back and think things through. Oftentimes, we have not seen the whole situation clearly. It is almost like watching a photograph develop…at first we see one thing, but then the whole picture comes together. With prayerful conversation with God before we speak on a difficult topic, we are better able to communicate. (Proverbs 16:24: “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul.”)

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    1. Thank you Linda! The photograph analogy is spot on. In the day of instant pictures, it’s easy to forget that instant words are not always favorable. Until reading your comment, I never thought about how honey takes time to develop. The sweetness of our words take time with the Lord to be developed as well.

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      1. Very good point! Honey does take time to develop! 🙂 We cannot take our words back if we say something when we are angry. You are right…we need to take time to sweeten those words a bit! 🙂

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    1. Well Gary, had James lived in the 21st century he might just have added a shock collar to his analogies in chapter 3 on taming the tongue. With Adi who will soon be 5, I’ve learned that training never ends. I can see that is true in myself as well, which keeps me humble and completely dependent on the Holy Spirit for help. Honestly, the thought that I have mastered anything scares me because it means I’ve walked right back to the prideful self-reliant life I once lived.

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  5. That’s my week started well now…a doggy devotional hits the right spot spiritually every time! How much I too am like Summer (certainly not in age!), I bark at the occasional interruption of my day from any of a number of sources. Praise our loving God who soothes us in these moments, today for me it is this lovely post. God bless you and your family sister.

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  6. Yes, this is a great lesson, Beth. It’s very easy to over react to our circumstances, especially when we don’t check in with the BOSS first. Your scripture references are also spot on. This is a wonderful post, as always. Blessings!

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  7. This is beautiful! The only reason I am reading this now is because I was awakened, at 4 o’clock in the morning our time, by our excitable poodle barking because he heard a sound that disturbed him.

    That was 16 minutes ago. Now the poodle is calm and I am going back to bed.

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