Insight From Isaac: The Back Scratch

"What's he doing?"

The young mother stood at the end of her driveway, baby propped on hip. The baby held a cracker midair. Their eyes fixed on the yard across the street.

Lying belly up in the grass, all four paws turned toward heaven, a dog named Isaac twisted into a C-shape, then a reverse C shape. His tail bobbed. His mouth was wide open as he happily panted, extended his legs, and slid around the yard. 

On the other end of his leash was the pet parent, smiling down at the yoga-prone dog as he invented new poses. She thought that she was the dog's lone audience until the question floated across the street.

"He's scratching his back."

Isaac picked up speed. Twist to the left. Twist to the right. Extend legs. Toss head back. Do the hokey pokey, and turn yourself around. That's what it's all about...

The mother still stared. The cracker still hovered in baby's hand. 

"Really?"

Isaac flipped himself onto his belly and stood. He shook the grass and dust off of his coat and "smiled" at the puzzled onlookers before pulling me forward.

I don't think the baby ever finished the cracker. 

If you read this blog on a semi-regular basis, you know that Isaac is my Eskimo-Lab-Collie mix who found me shortly after I moved to the Mississippi delta. You also know that he's one of my favorite theologians, along with Mumford and Sons and Downton Abbey. He may not have a British accent, but he speaks and sings clearly.

Sometimes I'm slow to understand what he's "saying."

The first time Isaac decided to stop for a back scratch mid-walk was our first summer together. It was a warm afternoon, and we'd gone for a short stroll around the block. I was as puzzled as the mother-baby duo when he rolled into the grass and started that upside-down "dance." In fact, I was scared.

Was it heat stroke? Where was the water? Will I be able to carry him home if he can't walk? I am a horrible pet parent!

Of course, Isaac eventually got up, shook off the grass, and led me home. I was on the computer within minutes, googling, "my dog is lying down in the grass what does that mean." As with most google searches, the results varied from "he's fine" to "get him to the vet right away." So I called the vet's office and asked about symptoms of heat stroke. I explained what had happened. 

God bless veterinarians and their staff. I would have laughed at me, but they didn't. Instead, they told me that he was cooling off--and goofing off. In the shaded grass he was able to take care of himself while also enjoying himself.

Do you ever take yourself too seriously?

Do you spend more time scratching your head in confusion than scratching your back in playful surrender?

Discipleship may be a serious business, but we need not take ourselves too seriously.

When Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always," he spoke amid imprisonment, persecution, and the most serious of circumstances. He encouraged his brothers and sisters to laugh, play, sing, dance, and live with gladness no matter how dire the world seemed. He knew how powerful joy could be, and he didn't want them to lose that perspective. 

God wants to give us little "sabbaths" throughout the day, these moments of joy that are sometimes hard to see for the clouds of fear that entangle us. Discipleship may be a serious business, but we need not take ourselves too seriously. We need to cool off from stressful times. We need to scratch our backs in childlike (or dog-like) surrender to the Author of Wonder.

Six years ago, the following video appeared on You Tube with a simple message about God & Dog. Whether or not you're an animal lover, I hope you'll take a moment to hear a call to rejoice in the One who created us all. If you subscribe by email and can't see the video below, click here.

all good things to each of you (amen, and bow-wow, too),

Pastor Darian & Paw-stor Isaac