It’s been a tough week. It’s been tough for several reasons, but probably most difficult is the loss of a loved family pet. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fully understand those who don’t particularly sympathize with the loss of a pet. Many who grew up on farms have a vastly different perspective on animals. Many who haven’t had/don’t like family pets or those who have bad allergies wouldn’t likely sympathize too much either. To be honest, prior to having a cat, I didn’t particularly like cats and so probably wouldn’t have understood myself. Furthermore, it wasn’t technically even my cat. My wife got “Poptart” (yeah, I know, I had trouble introducing him to visitors and maintain family credibility) approximately a month before we got married almost 3 years ago. It was as though it was her last gesture of total independence that was challenging me – “you’re not going to call off the wedding over a little kitten are you?” Of course she knew I wouldn’t.
Over the years I was surprised at how attached I got to this little critter. He was naughty, fairly selfish, and at times downright obnoxious. I still have scars on my legs because, for whatever reason, every night when I walked from my bathroom to my bed he’d jump out from behind something and bite my calf. And every night it was not only painful, but humiliating to be once again outsmarted by a stupid cat. This was followed by every morning him licking my knuckles to wake me up, and when that wouldn’t work, biting my knuckles, and when that wouldn’t work, sitting on my head – all to let me know he wanted food. Every day, same routine. In addition to this, Poptart scratched every piece of furniture in our house, shed, stuck his face in all of our food, urinated in every piece of luggage we own, and tried to kill our pet rabbit multiple times daily. Finally, I’m not even convinced that he liked us all that much. Well, despite all this and as independent as cats seem to be, Poptart was dependent on us. And we felt very strongly about him.
This past Saturday he clearly wasn’t feeling quite right. He started howling in the evening and my wife and I talked about taking him into the animal emergency clinic. We’d done this once before and it was an expensive trip. We thought that we’d see how he felt the next day and see if he can’t make it till Monday, as the normal vet visit is about 4 times less expensive than the emergency care. He was clearly still sick and uncomfortable on Sunday and not going potty, but he wasn’t howling, so we assumed he might be a little better, so we set up an appointment for first thing on Monday. That morning when I got there, the doctor examined him for a minute, looked at me and said if we don’t anesthetize him right now, put a catheter in, and have surgery, he’s going to die in the next 10 hours. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. Understanding this sounded like a major treatment, I naturally asked “How much?” She said that it could be a couple thousand dollars. So……..with a heavy heart, I called Adrian. She came over from work. We prayed about it. We saw what pain he was in. We deeply regretted not taking him into the emergency vet on Saturday. And we decided to put him down. It was awful. Holding a creature in your arms, no matter how small, no matter how naughty it’s been, and making a decision about its life WILL affect you.
Poptart held a special place in our hearts (particularly my wife’s) in part because of what he’d symbolized in the past 3 years. When we got married, my wife had to pack her bags, leave her friends and work, and move over to WI with me while I finished school. 9 months later she had to again pack her bags, leave new friends and work, and move to our new assignment in MN. Any of you who have been uprooted (due to external circumstances) and forced to move understand how difficult it can be. Any of you who have had a pet be somehow particularly expressively sympathetic when they sense you’re going through sadness (not sure how God implanted that into dogs and cats, but I’m convinced he did), you too understand how emotional that is. Poptart was a comforting constant in my wife’s life (and mine) throughout the seasons of change. A familiar, friendly face that you know what to expect from is enormously welcoming. This weekend we felt like we’d let him down, like we hadn’t been good managers of the blessings God had given to us, and suddenly he was gone.
Okay. For those of you who say “I can only listen to a grown man ramble about losing his pet cat for so long” I totally get it. Perspective is important. After all, he was a cat. It’s not being unsympathetic to have a healthy perspective on the relationship between animals and humans. I don’t begin to pretend that losing a family pet is anything like losing a true human family member. It’d be ridiculous to suggest they were in the same ballpark. As it is, Americans probably have a somewhat unhealthy and disproportionate attachment to animals/pets in relation to humans (cf. PETA). In fact, I just read an article yesterday on US News & World Report.com that suggested that despite the fact that although Americans have cut back in their own lives during the recession, the “pet industry” has been one of steady growth – gourmet food, expensive toys, clothes for animals, etc. One could probably debate the merit of a pet emergency clinic in the first place. All that said, what I’m finally driving at here is that the loss of a little dependent creature like this can be terribly painful. We cared for him. We cared deeply about him.
As a pastor, naturally thoughts tend to drift towards the spiritual. Intellectually I could understand that this was “just a cat” and a pretty poorly behaved one at that. But I was still deeply affected. This all got me thinking about God’s care of his dependent creatures. How deeply does he feel about us?
Now some of God’s human creatures (at least claim) to love him and are somewhat obedient to him. Others flat-out openly rebel against him and deny any relationship or acknowledgement of him. And yet, God still provides for all of his little human critters. He still causes the sun to rise on us all. He still generously provides clothing, shelter, and food for us all. He doesn’t throw lightning bolts from the sky for their destruction, but rather he himself descends (finally in the person of Christ) to us to let us know how he cares for us and how much he cares about us. He does all this and puts up with all of our garbage simply because he is a God “who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
If I, as a sinful creature myself, am capable of feeling so strongly about the loss of a little semi-dependent creature that I’ve partially cared for, what then does it feel like for God when he, a perfect being capable of perfect love and concern, when he (spiritually) loses his totally dependent creatures forever. Now I can’t fully harmonize in my brain how God can have a heavenly existence and at the same time be sorrowed by humans, but losing those who should be his children has to tear him apart in ways that you or I experiencing the loss of a cute pet can’t begin to understand. We’d all have to admit (and this past week has been eye-opening for me in this respect) that we haven’t begun to comprehend how deeply God feels about us humans. If we knew how much it sorrowed him when we speak poorly about one another would we ever dream of doing it? If we knew how much it saddened him when we dismissed studying his Word or praising him or praying to him, would we ever consider it an option? And the one that truly gets me now – if we understood how torn up inside God must be when he loses a would-be child to lack of faith, would I be as “okay” as I am with not having the foot on the accelerator around the clock when it comes to spreading the news of Jesus my Savior? Hmmm……
Having gone through a little bit of a tough emotional stretch, maybe the silver-lining lesson learned was the depth of God’s concern about me and all of his little dependent creatures. I’ve heard of his love before. The 3:16s of John I’ve always thought are the basics of God’s love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) & “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). Not having any children of my own (as God does) though, I’m not sure that I’ve ever had to be in a position before where I felt I could completely relate – where I saw such a desperate condition in someone I cared about that I truly wanted to trade places. In its own strange way (and again, yes, I understand he was a cat), when I heard/saw Poptart in so much pain, I couldn’t help but think, “Man I really wish that I could take this from him, do more for him, or even experience this for him.” And shortly later, he was gone. It was pretty painful.
Now project this to the cosmic scale of God’s family. God can’t possibly do any more for us than what he has already done. In our place, he DID experience what we deserved so that we won’t ever have to worry about eternal suffering. I can’t imagine him caring for us any better than what he’s done. I can’t imagine him caring about us any more than what he does. Despite some temporary sadness, that’s an important lesson to learn.