I saw a bumper sticker a couple of years ago that left me laughing out loud, in the car, by myself. It said, “Wag more, bark less.” My dogs are happy dogs. Their joy is quite visible, they wag their tails more times a day than I can count. We all enjoy a dog’s expression of joy–that whirl of wags and wiggles. But, we become easily annoyed when the barking begins. It’s obvious that barking is also stressful for the barking dog. Though funny at first, the true meaning of that quote sunk in, and hit too close to home.
When I was a single mother, I did too much barking and not enough wagging at home. I struggled so much with the my financial situation. I was often anxious, frustrated, and mentally and physically exhausted. My ex-husband didn’t pay child support. Living in a community property state, meant I was also responsible for the unpaid debts he left when he disappeared. I had no family to turn to, and three teenage kids to support. The paychecks I received from multiple part time jobs, only covered three-fourths of the bills. Paying bills became a recurring, juggling act. I grew weary of the threatening, red-letter notices in the mail.
During the winters I kept our heat thermostat quite low. We had a wood burning stove for supplemental heat. But most of the time, I left early in the morning and came home late, after my second job. I was chilled to the bone and too exhausted to build a fire then. Everybody was practically in bed anyway. Though the kids knew how to burn wood safely, they often didn’t want to build a fire. It took work to get the fire just right. With our northwest cold winters, there were many times we could see our breath in the house. Sometimes, I went to bed with my clothes, gloves, slippers and coat on, waiting for the blankets to warm up so I could change into my pajamas.
The worst part was having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. The toilet seat was ice cold. One year, I robbed money from groceries and other bills to buy everyone electric blankets I saw on clearance. What a delight to crawl into a pre-warmed bed.
The stress robbed most of my sleep. I felt overwhelmed, and often grumpy. I feared losing a job, and ending up homeless. The situation was too much for one person to bear. At times, I thought God had given up on us, but He was always faithful behind the scenes, providing in miraculous ways.
Now, those awful years are past. The kids are grown and gone. Unfortunately, memories of such hard times and of myself as a grumpy and exhausted mom, are hard to erase. There wasn’t much I could have done to change our financial situation back then. I wish I would have known to change my perspective, and been more joyful over what I did have. A family, a home, jobs, and a God that stuck by my side, even though I didn’t see it then.
The joy of the Lord wasn’t my strength then, because my focus was only on what lay before me. I wish I would have relied more on God, and less on myself. I wish I would have passed that fiery trial, instead of letting it transform me into someone I didn’t like or care to be. I wish I would have wagged much more, and barked much less.
Have you had life experiences like mine, that leave you–well–wag-less? God expects us to rely on Him, to look to Him for that peace that surpasses all understanding, even in the midst of chaos. As a Christ-follower, finding joy in tough circumstances isn’t always easy. But it is the best for our health, and for those around us. There are always going to be those kinds of circumstances in our lives at one time or another. The apostle Paul was able to speak about joy from inside the walls of filthy, rat filled prisons when he wrote his letters, 1st Thessalonians 5:16 and Philippians 4:4.
He was in prison, not because he was a criminal, but for telling others about Christ. He didn’t get suffocated by his terrible circumstances, like I did. He rose above a miserable situation, and focused on finding the joy and peace we can only gain from drawing close to God. That’s why I liked the bumper sticker, “Wag more, bark less.” so much. I believe that is what James and Paul were trying to tell us in Scripture.
James 1:2-4 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
By ~ Elizabeth Yalian ©2013