A cat show is held each October in New York’s Madison Square Garden. A reporter asked owners about the relative attributes of different breeds. A silver spotted Egyptian Mau apparently loves to swim. “If you don’t want him in the shower or bathtub, you’d better close the door,” said one owner. “Sadly, the black Bombay has nothing fancy to offer,” said another. “Unlike a lot of the cats here, the Bombay doesn’t do anything. He has no skills. He just is.”
On hand for the occasion was therapist Carole Wilbourn. For £200 she’ll come to your home and offer your cat relaxation therapy. She didn’t seem to be doing much business. “Does this cat look like he needs a therapist?” asked the owner of a huge fluffy Persian sprawled on a table. “If he got any more relaxed, he’d be dead.”
It’s no wonder cats that are being cared for and loved with such dedication don’t need therapy. The apple of their owner’s eyes, what is there to cause them stress? There is none of the pressure human beings feel to provide for their own needs, to respond to the requirements of others, to justify their existence by productive activity.
In our more complicated lives, we need to discover ways of dealing with tension. Many people know from experience that when they are the apple of someone else’s eye, as daughter, son, lover, parent, friend, this provides a context for living in which life takes on a more relaxed perspective. For many of us, our mothers were the first people to give us this experience.
Each of us is also the apple of God’s eye. We can receive that kind of totally accepting regard from God, even when we have nothing fancy to offer. God’s care for us doesn’t always amount to the kind of physical pampering received by the cats on display in New York but basking in the delight of being loved by God can have a deeply relaxing effect.
Read: Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17.8)
Rejoice: in any experience we’ve had of being really loved.
Reflect: Do I feel I have to perform well to be loved??
Remember: Even if I feel I have no skills, it’s enough just to be.
Resolve: to bask today in God’s unconditional love for me.
Sun, not water, may soon become the main cleansing agent. Scientists at Hong Kong Polytechnic University have discovered that clothing coated with tiny particles of titanium dioxide has only to be exposed to sunlight in order to automatically remove dirt from clothes. Activated by the light, the particles – each one 2,500 times narrower than a human hair – break down carbon-based molecules.
Removing the discomfort of an uneasy conscience or sense of failure is not so easy. Feelings of guilt or inadequacy can nag away at us until we long for some way of cleansing them from our minds and hearts. This is often done most effectively when we become aware of the warmth of someone’s love for us.
Such love need not be uncritical but it should be un-condemning. To be seen as we are, yet not judged, is a liberating experience and when such light shines on us, our capacity for self-acceptance begins to operate and drive away our malaise. This is the nature of God’s love for us. God’s love shines on us regardless of our failings. His unconditional regard for us cleanses us.
We can also offer such an accepting love to each other. When we listen carefully to people who’re feeling inadequate or guilty, we’re paving the way for a new beginning for them. By taking their issues seriously, at least as seriously as we take our own, we can help them feel they are emerging into the light, a light which cleanses and sets them free to move on, unencumbered by the past .
Read: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1)
Rejoice: in the forgiveness I receive from those who go on loving me when they have good cause not to.
Reflect: Am I afraid there are things about me that might deter God from loving me?
Remember: it won’t.
Resolve: to offer love which isn’t uncritical but is uncondemning.
Dave and Sue Lupton have to sit on the floor when they watch TV. Their three pet Vietnamese pot bellied pigs not only hog the remote control, they fill the sofa. In fact, at 180lbs each, Poppy, Danny and Duwee take up most of the couple’s tiny bungalow at St Breward, Cornwall. “But,” said Sue, “We love them being in the house – they’re my babies, even when they are being difficult.”
Feeling squeezed can be, for many of us, a familiar experience. It might be our work, family commitments, or supporting a friend through a tough time, that takes away our feeling of being able to spread ourselves. Sometimes the appropriate response is to push out of the way what’s making us feel restricted. Sometimes we make space for the extra burdens out of love.
Jesus sometimes went off by himself to escape the pressure of the crowds. But as his final challenge to Jerusalem approached, his love led him to accept increasingly limited options. The demands from the people for healing, the pressure from his opponents and his own understanding of where he was heading combined to squeeze him into a path which led eventually to the utter immobility of the cross.
If we feel that our space or our time is being invaded, we can choose whether to allow that or not. Often the right thing to do is to persevere. Our commitment may lead to our own needs being displaced but our love for other people or our dedication to a particular task can make the sacrifice a joy.
Read: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed (2 Corinthians 4.8)
Rejoice: in the satisfaction I get from caring for someone else.
Reflect: Ought I to be claiming more space for myself in any of my relationships?
Remember: God will make good use of whatever space we leave for him.
Resolve: to work at the balance between looking after myself and caring for others.
A popular website provides an opportunity for confession. PostSecret.com invites anonymous postcards containing secrets. “My boyfriend and my family thought I quit smoking two years ago. I didn’t (and still smoke),” said one, signed “Closet Smoker”. “I say I’m a vegetarian. But I eat meat on the sly!” said another, with a sketch of a steak and steak knife as evidence. There are also other more intimate secrets. “Some of the people mailing in secrets seem to be searching for absolution. They want to lighten their burden,” said Frank Warren who created the site.
Relief is nearly always what follows the revealing of a secret. Those which have been accompanied by guilt or regret seem to lose their power when told to someone else. But the success of the website may indicate that there are many of us who don’t have a human being with whom we can share such things.
Jesus seems to have been the kind of person people opened up to. A woman with a secret illness, a tax collector who had never before admitted his thieving ways, a religious leader who was finding orthodoxy unsatisfying, were all truthful in his presence. These are just the confidences we know about. There were no doubt others he took with him to the grave and beyond.
The risen Jesus still has that capacity to listen. There may also be friends and family in whom we feel we can confide. Perhaps too, because a website can’t offer the acceptance that guilty and regretful people need, it’s worth fostering in ourselves those qualities which would make us trusted and available listeners.
Read: When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6.6)
Rejoice: in those with whom we can share confidences
Reflect: Is there anything I’d feel better about if I shared it with someone?
Remember: if I share myself with others, they’re more likely to share themselves with me.
Resolve: to listen when they do.
Maurice Sendak writes and illustrates children’s literature. In “Where the Wild Things are”, Max, his young hero, furious with his mother and banished to his room, dresses in his wolf suit and imagines he is King of the Wild Things and can reek whatever mayhem he chooses. In the real world we are less powerful. Dealing with pain and anger is more complicated.
What causes these feelings will be different for each of us. Maurice Sendak is a Jew. He’s distressed and angry about the holocaust. He says he will never let it go. But not everyone wants to let the anger linger in their hearts. In some cases, this kind of pain can become the source of an energy which works to change things. In others they feel like a burden which we would be glad to set down and leave behind.
Max soon tires of raging around in the Wild Things’ forest and wants to return to where “someone loved him best of all”. When we struggle to let go of pain and anger, it helps to know that we are in the presence of one who loves us. Strong unwanted feelings can fade, if we let them, in the warmth and acceptance of the love of a parent, a lover or a friend. God too, in the imagery of the bible, offers “everlasting arms” and, held by them, we can feel safe enough to unburden ourselves of some of our rage and pain.
Jesus shows on the cross God’s willingness to be the recipient of human anger and aggression. He’s strong enough to take our despair and rage. Perhaps today we might consider whether there are feelings of which we want to let go and, if there are, seek the presence of a love which will help us do it.
Read: Do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4.26)
Rejoice: in those with whom it’s safe to be angry.
Reflect: How do I normally deal with anger?
Remember: if what I learnt from my parents was that being angry made me unlovable, I need to unlearn it.
Resolve: if I feel angry with God, to tell him.
Jessie Lee’s two plywood-and-wool ornamental sheep were stolen from outside her cottage in Holt, Norfolk. She was dumbfounded when three-and-a-half years later they were returned to her. With them was an envelope marked Larry & Sean’s Holiday Photos. The 16 pictures showed the intrepid sheep travelling all over India, visiting sights such as the Taj Mahal and baahsking with their cocktails in the evening sun on a beach in Goa. The only clue as to the identity of the sheepnappers was a picture of Larry and Sean attached to the backpacks of a couple of young travellers.
‘They are slightly worn and torn after their trip but I am delighted they are back,’ said Mrs Lee. ‘I’d love to meet the mystery backpackers so I can hear about their adventures’. Sadly there’s no other way she’ll discover what they got up to; the sheep themselves are tight-lipped about it.
Many of the people we know will also have experiences they don’t talk about. Some of them will be painful, others fascinating, many life-changing. Sometimes people we think we know well could tell stories that would surprise us. Often knowing something of people’s hidden past would explain aspects of their behaviour and personality.
God knows each of us intimately. That knowledge is never used against us; it enables God to love and care for us effectively and uniquely.
We perhaps need, especially with people who may seem, on the surface, uninteresting or strange in their behaviour, to recognise that we don’t know all there is to know about them. Most of us don’t have those intuitive powers but we should treat everybody with a respect that comes from assuming that there is more in their history than meets the eye.
Read: When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
“Where did you get to know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1.47-48)
Rejoice: in the variety and uniqueness of each person’s experience
Reflect: Which bits of my life-story am I reluctant to share? Why?
Remember: People are sometimes more understanding and accepting than I expect.
Resolve: to seek an appropriate way of learning more about someone’s past.
Henjai Kagoshi from Osaka has invented a special set of duster slippers for cats. The miniature shoes with dusters on the end are strapped to cat’s paws, after which the cat is left to roam the house, inadvertently dusting as it goes. “For a more thorough dust I prod my cat with rolled up newspaper. That makes it go faster and get into all the corners. When it comes to a full-scale clean-up, however, I release a few mice. The cat goes berserk and the place is soon shining like new”.
It seems, however, that many of us don’t want a spring clean of our homes or work place. In one survey, forty percent said their messy desk drove them mad but they couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. It’s perhaps more likely that it’s other people’s space, or even other people’s lives, that we’d like to get our tidying hands on. The disarray of their environment or the chaotic state of their relationships or their diary upsets us. We allow it to irritate us so much that we’d love to be a cat with dusters zooming through their life sorting them out.
One of the hardest types of loving is to let people be themselves. They may ask for our view of how their lives could be improved or our opinion on their situation. Sometimes it may be right to offer unsolicited advice to a friend, especially if their behaviour is giving others problems. In the end, though, people are responsible for themselves.
If invited, God’s happy to be let loose in our lives, helping us get things sorted, but God respects our freedom to choose. Perhaps also in our loving, we should keep our dusters to ourselves until any offer to help has been accepted. Not everyone wants other people dashing around their lives or their relationships doing spring cleaning.
Read: They called to the blind man…. he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. (Mark 10:49-51)
Rejoice: in those who let us express our needs and respond appropriately.
Reflect: what is my normal reaction when I’m offered support and help.
Remember: we’re free to accept or reject offered help.
Resolve: when I’m trying to help someone, to take note of their wishes.