Here’s a quote I’ve been carrying around with me for almost 27 years. It’s from the book How to Argue and Win Every Time (1995) by Gerry Spence. He writes:
Wisdom does not usually fall from high places. The mighty and splendid have taught me little in life. I have learned more from my dog than from all the great books I’ve read. The wisdom of my dog is the product of his inability to conceal his wants. When he yearns to be loved, there is no pouting in the corner. There are no games entitled “Guess what is the matter with me.” He puts his head on my lap and looks up at me with kind eyes, waiting to be petted. No professor or sage ever told me I might live a more successful life if I simply asked for love when I needed it.
These words made me ask: why is it sometimes so hard for us humans to express our needs to others? I came up with several reasons. First, we may lack the humility to admit that we even have needs! Our current culture stresses independence and self-reliance so much, we may be embarrassed by our simple needs for attention, tenderness, and companionship. Or maybe we assume (incorrectly) that our loved ones should already know our needs. And if we have to tell them what we need, they somehow don’t love us very much.
But perhaps there’s a third reason we don’t express our needs to others: We don’t even know what our needs are! How important it is, then, to live a reflective life, that is, a life when we regularly pause and ask ourselves questions like these: “How am I doing?… How am I feeling?… How are things going in my life right now?” Many well-adjusted and essentially happy people reflect on such questions during their prayer time, that is, during their regular communion with God.
Jesus encouraged his followers to know and to express their needs. In fact, if we look at the prayer he taught his disciples, the Our Father, we see it is a prayer composed of seven petitions addressed to God. In Matthew’s version of the prayer, the first three petitions are “thy” askings: Hallowed be thy name… Thy kingdom come… Thy will be done.
The remaining four are “us” petitions: Give us today our daily bread… Forgive us our trespasses… Lead us not into temptation… but deliver us from evil. By giving us this prayer, Jesus is underscoring the importance of petitionary prayer. Such prayer presupposes not only that we are in touch with our deepest needs, it demonstrates that we trust enough to express these needs even to God!
The Christian life means more than simply identifying and expressing our needs, of course. The mandate of love permeates Jesus’ message. This means we must also be attentive to the needs of others—those close to us and those living in the wider world. But the two movements are closely connected. Jesus was amazingly attentive to those around him precisely because he was in touch with his own needs. And he wasn’t afraid to reach out to his friends and disciples when he needed rest, companionship, a good home-cooked meal, feedback about his ministry, and time alone to pray.
So, let us learn a valuable lesson from our dog or other pets. Let us admit our needs to ourselves and share them with our family, close friends, and most of all with our Beloved God. Amen!
1) Is it easy for you to express your needs to others? Why or why not?
2) Do you regularly express your needs to God in prayer?
3) What helps you to be attentive to the needs of others?
4) Has your dog (or cat or other pet or animal) ever taught you an importance lesson about life? If so, what and how?
Here is a fun video about dogs, cats, and other pets. It’s called “Don’t Leave without Me,” and is a parody of Adele’s song “Easy on Me.” Perhaps your pets sing this song to you whenever you leave the house without them…
I welcome your comments below! I’m always eager to read what you have to share with us!