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