Pet lovers will get this. Non pet lovers may not. But hang in there, because this really isn’t about cats, but people. Particularly, principles for deeper connections between fellow followers of Jesus, necessary ones, that I learned from Sandy, our cat. I thought he was just a lost kitten when he strolled into our lives along the top of a bank, and nobly ignored us as we called him. He had business to attend to. I did as well, and walked away.
Our grandkids, Josh and Hannah, soon brought him to me. Young, very young, and right away he’d melt into your chest as you held him. Little did I dream how imbedded he would become.
Yesterday, a Saturday, 9 ½ years later, we put him to sleep. The feline leukemia that he battled almost his entire life finally overcame him. But over the years, and especially over the last several days, he provided a pattern for how followers of Jesus need to love one another.
Serve. On that last morning, I took a shower and he galloped from some other room to leap onto the edge of the bed. Following our routine, I knelt down as he proceeded to finish “grooming” the remaining moisture from my beard. The lesson—humble tasks done to benefit others grow our connections.
Be There in Hard Times. Not all our pets have gotten so far into our hearts as Sandy did. When the time came, I felt not being with him would be a betrayal. So rather than just dropping him off with a pet and a kiss, I took him in to the vets. Held him as he explored the room. Stroked his body as his breathing slowed and my tears flowed. I took him home and we buried him. The lesson—commitment includes presence even when our hearts ache.
Live in the Real World. Rather than letting the vet dispose of his body, I dug a hole in our yard, lowered his body into it, and carefully filled in the soil. Much like the Russian tradition, where the family fills in the grave. The lesson—don’t sugarcoat difficulties and ignore the level of pain. The level of catharsis from doing the actual burial surprised me. This isn’t about our American burials, but real relationships acknowledge real truths.
Enmesh Yourself in Others. Sandy’s life taught me the importance of deeply connecting with others in a variety of venues. He’d meet me at the front door when I returned from work. He’d crawl up on Sheila’s chest as we all lay in bed before sleep. When hungry, he’d climb onto my desk as I wrote, nuzzling like an addict, to get my attention to replenish his food dish. In the morning, he’d crawl into my lap as I ate breakfast and read the paper. The lesson—for key people in your life, increase the number of ways you interact. It deepens us.
Give affection. From the beginning, I wondered if he really was a cat. Naturally, he cuddled. Nuzzled my beard. The feline leukemia kept him indoors to avoid infections, but I’d take him for walks in our yards, and he rested hard against my chest. He’d sniff a camellia, then look up at me. The lesson—express your care, in whatever manner is most appropriate for the relationship. Don’t hide it, but share it. Our hearts need that.
Don’t fear pain. Before Sandy arrived, we’d decided on no more pets. They took time, money, and their losses hurt. We didn’t want more grief. Sandy’s affectionate nature both overcame that, and made the loss so much greater than before. We were wrong in saying no, before. The lesson—let’s not avoid getting close because it hurts when it ends, or we get betrayed, or they die. Better to live knowing we’ll be hurt, and to cherish the joy we gain, than to avoid the pain and lose the joy.
Kick Starting the Discussion
Most of you never met Sandy, and that’s OK. This isn’t a cat story. But I encourage you to think about the level of relationships that following Jesus entail. Our “partnership,” or “fellowship,” or a host of other words, is the Greek koinonia, an imbedding of lives in one another. We, the American church, miss that. I hope this gets us thinking about how to koinonia better.
So, which of those issues do you do best in with other people? Why? Which do you struggle the most in? Why? True confession time. As an introvert, I don’t have many human friendships that match those principles. I want more. Sandy taught me that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.