I just about jumped out of my skin when the dog lunged at the fence, barking with an authoritarian voice that clearly negated anything that sign said about being welcome. I paused by the shaking boards only long enough to snap a photo -and then I was out of there. If he wanted the entire lane to himself, that was fine with me. The sign said welcome, but something was missing.
Mixed messages may be difficult to read, but usually action barks louder than words.
One day I was expecting a student for a singing lesson, but I wasn’t sure if I would be on time because I planned to attend the funeral of an old acquaintance earlier in the afternoon. My student was a mature person I knew well, so I phoned her and said I would leave the door unlocked, and if I was a few minutes late she could just come in and practise.
Well, the funeral went on longer than I anticipated because so many people wanted to share what the dear departed soul meant to them. She was dearly loved and the boxes of tissue thoughtfully placed on the pews were passed between all her many friends and family. The last person to speak talked about how her door was always open to students who dropped by regularly for cookies and advice.
At that moment I suddenly remembered that although I left the door open for my student, I forgot to turn off the burglar alarm! It is partly a motion detector type alarm and wouldn’t go off if the unlocked door was opened, but it surely would if she walked into the living room where the piano was.
I looked at my watch and whispered my dilemma to the fellow sitting beside me. Poor guy. I caught him off guard and he guffawed loudly. Bad timing.
I wonder about the messages we give people. Sometimes the messages people intend to communicate are not, for various reasons beyond their control, perceived in the same spirit. Sometimes it’s an oversight, or bad timing. Sometimes words don’t match actions and people are rightly spooked. If folks preach love and grace, yet passers-by hear snarling disapproval or condemnation from the other side of the gate –well, no wonder they run away. If people implore others to come into their parlour and then scare the hide off them with alarms that scream “intruder alert,” they probably will not need to set another place at the table.
I used to do an exercise with students to demonstrate the importance of making sure your body communicated the same message as a song. I would ask them to touch their chin with their finger.
“Touch your finger to your chin like this,” I said, but then I deliberately touched my cheek. Nearly every one of them touched their cheek as I was demonstrating. A few looked confused or asked me to clarify. Rarely would someone actually do as I said and not as I did.
I usually went on to tell them if their face and shoulders looked morose, even if the song was joyful, the audience would go with morose. Actions carry greater authority as messengers than we realize.
How many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside!
– Henry Drummond
It’s a pretty basic lesson, really. People will know if love is genuine or if they are being coerced or manipulated. Jesus said, “By this will all people know that you are my followers: if you have love for one another.”
Love. Either it’s real, or it’s not.