Suffering, cats and hope in Advent
As I write this, our cat Blackie is doing what cats do when anyone is trying to concentrate on writing, and sticking his tail right up my nose. Sometimes he’ll be super helpful and even sit on the keyboard. Maybe later he’ll bat at my legs as I walk to get a cup of coffee. He’s a bit of a doofus (he even deleted that word with a paw a minute ago), but a lovable one.
We rescued him from a shelter almost two years ago, at the ripe age of 10. He warmed up to the kids right when we met him, enduring their affectionate aggression. Since then, he has been a constant companion on the couch, or any other flat surface that he can find a warm spot. He does a great impression of a scarf. Like most cats, he enjoys a cozy spot under the Christmas tree.
He also has a hair trigger and for no apparent reason will bite you right on the face. Twice he has mistaken my beard for a threat and tried to claw it off of my head. As annoying as that behavior is, this week I’ve been able to put up with it.
He was diagnosed with a medical condition that’s terminal without treatment. The treatment is expensive in time, energy, and financial resources. It’s in these moments, facing hard, life changing decisions that sometimes I question God. Yeah, even the guy writing about adventuring with God has doubts.
Remember back to our distinction for adventure about the ‘persevering into the unknown’ bit? That’s this week. I don’t know how long we have left with our lovable doofus of a cat. I don’t know how our kids will react when they realize that he won’t be around forever. I don’t know how they’ll take it when we say goodbye for the last time. I do know that they have sensitive hearts and there will be more tears than my heart can bear. All of this, coming on the heels of a global pandemic that left me with barely any reserves left just feels cruel. If I only had my own strength to draw on, I would be sunk.
On days like this, I reach for Scripture, simple prayers, or other graces that the Father has given me to replenish. Sometimes it’s a simple Jesus, give me strength prayer. Or a walk in the woods. I also love the beautiful liturgy found in the book Every Moment Holy for times like this. As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, we are meant to run on God for fuel. We can’t do this alone. Sure, you may be able to have worldly success on your own strength for a time, but eventually it will catch up with you. Maybe one day you’ll get more power than your character can handle and you’ll damage those closest to you. Or you’ll try to gut it out through a pandemic and come out the other side only to get a divorce. Or your furry friend will breathe their last while you’re writing a book, and you won’t be able to put the energy into the relationships you value most, caring for the hearts that have been entrusted to you, and you’ll regret how you handled it for the rest of your life.
In Romans, Paul writes of how when we fully put our trust in Christ, when we relax into him (a more modern translation) we are able to rejoice in our sufferings.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)
By enduring all of the trials we’ve put ourselves through in a life full of adventure, we are able to endure when we really need it. We have developed a strength of character, which in turn gives us strength to put our hope in Christ when all else seems lost.
My challenge to you this Advent season, dear reader, is to remember those times that God saw you through trials in the past. Think back to the glory and character development that came out of those trials. You wouldn’t be the same person if you hadn’t gone through it! Find a way this month to take a few moments each day to remember the Father’s provision for you through trials. I’ll be doing this each evening with my family as we light our Advent candle and read a devotion together. Maybe you can do the same.