Lessons My Dog Taught Me #9
By Galen C. Dalrymple
Is there anything in the world that better communicates pure and simple joy than the tail of a dog? Dogs are already wonderfully expressive creatures. When a dog becomes a member of your family, you learn to understand his posture and eyebrows and facial contortions, and all the whines and groans and growls and barks that together make up doggyspeak. Yet the tail is nature's own projection system, a means God devised so that humans (and other dogs and creatures) could tell exactly what dogs are feeling. Different tail positions and angles communicate different things, and not everyone knows what they mean. Yet we need no veterinarian or zoologist to tell us what a wagging tail means.
Like other Boxers, Ramses the Great, Lord of the Nile, had no tail to speak of. Boxers' tails are clipped when they are young. I asked Ramses the reason for this one day, and he replied (but be forewarned that Ramses is prone to delusions of grandeur) that Boxers' tails are so powerful that they would break legs and knock small children into adulthood if they were not clipped. Ramses did possess a tail stump, and it twitched back and forth for all it was worth whenever he was joyful. Also like other Boxers, Ramses' whole body wiggled when he wagged his tail. Ramses was less certain of the reason for this, but he surmised that when Boxers were deprived of one part of their expressive vocabulary, they decided (and he deemed it a typically wise decision on the part of Boxers) that they should wag their whole bodies to compensate for the loss.
One of the things that I love to do with all my dogs is simply speak a kind word in a soft and gentle tone. Ramses' tail would twitch back and forth like an electrified sausage. Rainy, the only non-Boxer we have owned in recent memory, thumped her tail gently against the floor. In fact, when someone came to the door, you could tell whether Rainy was fond of the visitor by how hard her tail smacked against the wall in the foyer.
It takes very little to set doggy tails to wagging. Just speak their names softly. Simply being acknowledged, knowing that they are on your mind, is enough to put a "smile" on their tail.
Colossians 3:12 exhorts us:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
God does not suggest that we "arm" ourselves with martial virtues, the virtues of battle, such as strength and valor, courage and diligence. He calls us to be gentle to others and tender to their needs, to think little of ourselves and much of how we can serve our neighbors.
I most enjoy putting a smile on my doggies' tails when they are feeling down. Perhaps one is not feeling well, or missed out on a treat, or is still feeling bad about have done something wrong. When I can turn those long faces and lowered heads into a wagging tail and an uplifted spirit, I love it. I have to believe that God too takes pleasure in bringing us encouragement precisely when we need it, in bringing warmth and joy to our hearts when they have seen little of either. And we know, because the Bible tells us so, that God values it when we do the same for one another. We can be God's agents of encouragement.
When is the last time you encouraged someone? When is the last time you were so "armed" with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience that you took the time truly to uplift another human being - especially one who was struggling?
Here, then, is today's assignment. Say something encouraging to the very next person you see or speak with after reading this reflection. Then, observe how much difference a kind word can make. Do you need someone to encourage you today? Then go out of your way to be an encouragement, and you will find that in blessing others you are blessed. The world is full of criticism and disappointment. God's people should be full of kindness and encouragement.
Further installments in the "Lessons My Dog Taught Me" series will appear each Monday at the Evangelical Portal.
Galen Dalrymple pastors Vineyard Hills Christian Church, a non-denominational Evangelical church in the wine country of California. His daily meditations, Daybreaks, are received by readers all over the country.