Potluck | April 11, 2017

Lessons I learned from my dog

Photo by Jan Fischer Bachman

“That’s the ugliest dog in the world,” the plumber said, looking at Tyra, our skinny, scruffy rescue mutt. At six-and-a-half pounds, Tyra lacks the cuddly roundness of most small dogs; she looks like a tiny version of a larger breed. Her now salt-and-pepper fur sticks out unevenly, and a paralyzed front leg causes her to lurch when she walks. She runs—and jumps—with ease, keeping us alert to what sits on the bar-height kitchen counter, a favorite Tyra noshing spot when we are out. (We learned this upon discovering a pawprint in the butter.)

She might not be the best looking (or behaving) dog, but Tyra has taught me many important spiritual lessons.

“Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14).

If I’ve been gone for a while, Tyra yelps for joy when I return home. How many more people would come to church if we made them feel as welcome as their dogs do?

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew…” (Matthew 9:9).

At a young age, we learn it’s not polite to stare—and soon we don’t even notice those around us. Out for a walk, I routinely ignore people on the other side of the street; Tyra stops and takes a good look. Applying my dog’s skills, I recently asked a frustrated-looking cashier if everything was okay. He shared his situation, and I offered encouragement. Would it help alleviate the national epidemic of loneliness if we starting really seeing people?

“Do not judge by appearances” (John 7:24).

Dogs sniff highly undesirable things, such as the backsides of other canines and fire hydrants covered with “pee mail.” These habits that seem disgusting to humans have a helpful function, though; they tell them the health status and stress level of other dogs.

When we notice that something is amiss, do we take time to ask questions? Or do we prefer to pretend that everything is fine? How often do we go beyond surface smiles to find out if people are stressed out or hurting?

Dogs, of course, never repeat what they find out, and neither should we!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

When we go to the door for a walk, Tyra gets so excited that she rears up on her hind legs and paws the air. Every day. Five times a day.

The blue sky. A flower. Your cozy bed. A glass of cool water. A delicious meal—or even an average meal. Do you appreciate the blessings around you and thank God for them, with enthusiasm?

“. . . Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Tyra forgives me even though I give her baths, clip her nails, and take her to the scary vet where shots happen. Why? Because I also feed her, walk her, and pet her, day after day. A solid, caring relationship puts the occasional painful moment—or criticism—into perspective. In a society that values combative language and ridicule, we need to be careful with our sharp words—even on social media.

Jesus used everyday things to make truth understandable: seeds, bread, sheep, lost coins. What other faith lessons could be found right around me? I should be looking for that food everywhere I go—just like my dog.

Jan Fischer Bachman is the Messenger web editor and a junior high advisor for Mid-Atlantic District and Oakton (Va.) Church of the Brethren.