An Amazing Dog
Recently, while listening to a sermon on the importance of family worship, I was reminded of an incident that took place in our home in Stornoway over fifty years ago, when my father had to take worship with our dog. I don’t actually remember it, as I was only a little child at the time, and was in bed asleep, but I do remember my mother telling the story several years later.
When my sister and I were small, we had a dog – a golden cocker spaniel called Lassie. She had her own bed in a corner of the living room during the day, but at night she slept in a lean-to shed at the back of the house. My grandmother, who was bedridden for the last dozen or so years of her life, lived with us, and she, and my aunt who cared for her, occupied one of the two upstairs rooms. Unfortunately, she didn’t like dogs, and so Lassie wasn’t allowed anywhere near her; or even in her room. There was a regular night-time routine in our home; supper was followed by family worship, then Lassie went out into the garden for a few minutes, before going to bed. One night, however, after my sister and I had been tucked up in bed, my parents spent the latter part of the evening upstairs with my aunt and granny. They must have had their supper there, and my father conducted worship with them in their room.
When they came downstairs, my mother started to set a tray for the morning, while my father went to put Lassie out into the garden, but she dug her heels in, and refused to go out. Eventually, she had to be dragged, against her will, along the passage, and out the back door. When she came back in, instead of going to the shed, she made a bee-line back along the passage to the living room, and into her corner.
My father then dragged her again out to the shed, and locked her in. As soon as the door was closed behind her, she began whimpering and whining, and my father went out to the shed to tell her off. The moment he opened the door of the shed, she darted past him, and raced back along the passage to her corner again. This went on for several minutes (if I remember the story correctly, Lassie was locked in the shed at least twice, and each time she whined non-stop), by the end of which time Lassie was back where she started, in her corner behind my father’s chair, having been chastised several times in the process.
As you can no doubt guess, my parents were totally baffled by Lassie’s behaviour, which was completely out of character. They just couldn’t understand what was wrong with her, and were at a loss to know what to do next. Almost at his wits’ end, my father sat down in his armchair by the fire, at which point Lassie jumped up on to his lap (something she had never done before, and, so far as I am aware, never did again). It was at that point that my mother came up with a possible explanation. Turning to my father, she asked: ‘Do you think Lassie doesn’t realise we’ve had worship?’
By this time, no doubt, my father was willing to try anything, and reached for the family Bible, which was on the shelf of the cupboard unit beside his chair. As soon as he did so, Lassie jumped down off his lap, and went round to her corner. He then conducted a very short worship – a brief opening prayer followed by just a few verses of a Psalm, then a few verses of a chapter, and an equally brief closing prayer – after which Lassie went off quite happily to her bed in the shed, and remained there for the night.
Several centuries before Christ, God, speaking through the prophet, said a day would come when ‘a little child shall lead them’ (Is.11:6). But in this case, it wasn’t a little child, but a dog, who set the example, and taught us a very important lesson, which my parents never forgot. I would be very surprised indeed if there was any other animal who refused to go to bed until she knew that worship had been taken, and I would be equally surprised if any other head of a family had to take worship for the benefit of the family dog. But, you see, Lassie had become accustomed to a regular routine, and that routine had been disrupted. There was a vital ingredient missing, and she was not going to settle for the night until that missing ingredient had been restored.
Back in those days, half a century ago, even in non-Christian homes, family worship was normal practice (in the Islands at least). Sadly, today, even in many Christian homes, children and adults are going to bed every night without family worship – and in many cases without even knowing what it is. Indeed, it may well be true to say that the television set has largely replaced the Word of God, as the ‘family altar’, around which they gather at the end of each day.
Is family worship such an essential part of your daily (and nightly) routine that even your pet would notice the difference if it was missing?
Free Church Witness, December 2005, by permission
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