Our friend Cyd Holsclaw shares a great skill thought here. In today’s focus, we have a helpful illustration showing how our connection and interactions with Jesus can update our beliefs and change how we think, feel, see and interpret God and our experience. This relational approach is not only refreshing, but it is also the opposite of how many of us try to change our connections. We wrestle and desperately try to change our beliefs using will power, better choices and more that often fall short of this refreshing relational approach Cyd shares with us today.
We had to say goodbye to one of our cats a few weeks ago. In many ways, it was a relief. June had a fairly miserable life. She hid in dark places, ran for cover whenever anyone walked near her and quivered in fear whenever more than two people were talking anywhere near her. We’re not sure what happened to June as a kitten, but it seems clear that she must have suffered some kind of abuse. She spent all thirteen years of the life she lived with us seemingly convinced that humans could not be trusted and she was not safe. No matter how we tried to convince her that we were not a threat to her, it wouldn’t sink in. We wanted to love her and be tender toward her. We wanted her to be brave enough to be with us and comfortable in our home. But she couldn’t. The only time I saw June completely relax was when she would snuggle in the hidden cat bed with her brother, Johnny.
Johnny, on the other hand, is an entirely different cat. He believes he is part of the family, with all the same rights and privileges of any other family member. He thinks he should sit on the bench at the dinner table and eat right along with us. He should sleep in our beds, read our books, watch our movies, and most importantly, live in our laps. There is not a timid or doubting bone in Johnny’s body. He is convinced that he belongs. He’s so sure of his belonging that when he is separated from us at night, he can’t stand it. For thirteen years, he hasn’t been allowed to sleep with us because it’s impossible to sleep with a cat on your face. Yet he seems to think that if he cries enough and scratches at our doors, we might still change our minds. We’ve sprayed him with water, locked him in the basement, given him his own bed right outside our doors, but nothing will deter him from his conviction that he belongs with us.
These cats have been a thirteen year object lesson for me of the difference that belief can make. Johnny believes he belongs, he knows he’s loved. June seemed to be convinced that she was not welcome, that she was despised. These differing beliefs have had dramatic consequences in the daily lives of our cats – and how we view God and our place in his presence has dramatic consequences for our daily living. I have experienced the nearness of Immanuel in my ordinary circumstances, and yet – at times, I still find myself behaving more like June. Rather than immediately approaching Jesus and inviting him to be with me, I seek shelter. I hide. I know how to connect with Jesus. I’ve done it hundreds of times. I’ve expressed gratitude, I’ve received his attunement, I’ve found him to be gentle and kind and I’ve experienced joy in knowing he is glad to be with me. And yet – sometimes I still run and hide, rather than invite and receive. The difference between me and June is that I am learning. Each time I resist hiding in shame and am instead received by Jesus, I become a little more convinced that I belong in the presence of God.
I want to be more like Johnny. I want to be so aware of God’s tender mercy, his delight in who I am, his desire to be with me and of his continual welcome that I never hesitate to leap into his lap. I want to be so convinced that I belong with him that I will not be content to be on the other side of the door I myself have closed. I allow discontent to close the door, unforgiveness to build a wall, shame to separate me. And I walk around, howling and bellowing because I feel distant from the One I belong with – when all it would take is a few moments of remembering God’s presence with me, expressing gratitude, believing I belong. And Jesus throws the door open and embraces me, returning me to joy in his presence.
And so in the past few days, I am deciding to allow Johnny’s dissatisfaction of being separated to be my cue to check my connection. Rather than being frustrated or annoyed that he just won’t learn to stop trying to get in our bedrooms, I am trying to take a moment to consider my awareness of Immanuel. I’m using the frustration with the cat as an invitation to express deep gratitude that God never closes the door and tells me that I can’t come in. He never tries to train me out of seeking his companionship, never locks me in the basement because he’s annoyed, and never refuses to let me sit in his lap. Each time I hear Johnny cry out for companionship, I remember that I am never alone. I belong with God.
Cyd and her husband Geoff have a new book called, “Does God Really Like Me” coming out in a few days. I have enjoyed the privilege of reading a pre-release copy, and I must say. This book is wonderful! I have enjoyed the lens of God’s desire to be with us to walk us through Scripture and to see familiar verses from a fresh and delightful perspective. This is a great introduction to the Immanuel Lifestyle, and a wonderful resource that provides compelling reasons we should and can live with an awareness of God’s presence. I hope you will buy this book!