My cat passed away yesterday, and I am brokenhearted. Although she didn’t suffer, my husband and I are missing her very much. She was thirteen years old, our first wedding present to each other, and my very first cat. She was a beloved companion of mine, and recognizing that she had reached the end of her journey on earth a few days ago when her sickness returned was what prompted me to write this piece.
Despite a natural grief over her loss, I remain joyful I serve a God who cares about all living creatures and takes note of every single one. I am certain she is with the Master of All Living Creatures, and even my cat – my little cat! – is part of the creation that will be redeemed, restored, and renewed. There is not one life, one creature lost to Him. And when that blessed time comes, I am certain I will recognize her.
There is no escaping pain.
I have always known this, but I have not always known it. I came to a fuller understanding of it only a few years ago, standing on the sidewalk outside a local breakfast restaurant where I was planning to grab brunch with my husband.
“What?” I said into my phone. “He what?”
“He killed himself,” my mother repeated over the conversations happening around me. I was having a hard time making sense of her words: I understood them, but they made no sense. “He committed suicide.”
She was talking about a kind, loving, elderly gentleman I knew. He was a gentleman married to the one of the sweetest and most generous Christian women I have ever met. Their marriage was a testament to love and faith: they still flirted like teenagers, even in their seventies. Together they took dinner to the sick and the wounded. Together they had survived, years ago, the loss of their only son to brain cancer.
I kept assuming I had heard wrongly; it wasn’t until after my mother repeated it several times that it really sank in. It seemed so senseless. And it still did not make sense after weeks and months and even a year had passed, after I had given his wife a giant hug and listened to her weep on the phone and watched her walk bravely forth into the world without him at her side. It still does not entirely make sense to me now.
But pain sometimes doesn’t. Hurt comes out of nowhere. My mother, decades ago, was standing on a rock outcropping at a cabin where we were vacationing: the rock crumbled underneath her feet and she fell, shattering the bones in her leg and her knee. She still walks with a slight limp from what was a freak accident. My uncle was in a terrible car accident as he sat at a stoplight when an inattentive man barreled into the back of his truck at nearly full speed. A woman, a friend of my mother’s, lost her husband to a freak collision just as they were enjoying their “empty nest” years.
And the hurts need not always be life-altering to be significant. They aren’t always cancer or a car accident or a devastating fall. Sometimes they’re small but potent. A friend one day simply stops calling and walks away as though a friendship never existed at all. Someone you love says a terribly cruel thing that sticks barbed in your spirit even after they’ve apologized. I was taking pictures of my playful cat in mid-December and watching her play on the wrapping paper; now, I miss her horribly.
Ask me about the difference between young Christian me and mid-thirties Christian me, and I will tell you that in some ways I have grown disenchanted with the world because I am beginning to see it for what it really is. When you’re young – when you really haven’t encountered a whole lot of loss or death or sorrow – you wonder, quietly, why everyone is always so eager to get to heaven. You’re very certain it’s nice there, of course, and you’ll love it because you love God, but earth isn’t so bad! You find that things are quite pleasant right where you are, and you know Jesus is coming back and one day we’ll all be in heaven together…but you’re fine if that waits, for a little while.
But when the years add up, you start to see the entirety of the picture. God has left a great deal of beauty and joy and hope in the world: He reveals Himself in it constantly, and it is enough to keep us all going. But you also run into the brokenness of the world, the irreparable sorrow and erosion of it. Senseless, awful things happen. There is death and decay and, yes, suffering. Terrible things happen to wonderful people. Your heart will hurt. You will say goodbye many times.
The other day I looked through an old address book I kept as a child. There is a list of names in it: my grandmothers, my great-aunt, my mother’s friend who used to clean my grandmother’s house, the gentleman from church and his wife. They have all gone on to be with God, and that is a blessed thing. But it was also difficult to look at the list and see that all those people were no longer here. This is the way the world is. The list of crossed-out names will only ever get longer. One day, unless Christ returns for me first, I will be a crossed-out name myself. So will you.
But I remain hopeful and full of joy.
I remain hopeful and full of joy because I know that the world is broken, and I know that God certainly never wished it to be. I know that what we currently endure is not, and will not be, His vision for His people or His creation, I know that God grieves the presence of tears and sadness and sorrow and hurt more than we do. I know this was not His desire. And that tells me everything about why God is worth loving.
You know what amazes me? One of the things about the Christian faith and God that has always hooked me and never let it go? It’s the knowledge that God alone has the power and the desire to transform this world into something that is redeemed. Rather than throw away the original that went bad, rather than shrug and start from scratch, He is going to restore it. He is going to renew it. That He has the power to do that and the desire to do it is remarkable to me. It is literally the only hope of this battered, limping creation. It is all we have. It is that which keeps us from despair.
So, yes, the names are crossed out in my address book – for a time. I miss my grandmothers and my grandpa, my great-aunt, the gentleman I knew from my church. But they aren’t lost or too far away. We’re just waiting.
My mom walks with a slight limp, and she will for a while. But one day she won’t. She’s just waiting.
And I hurt over my little cat, and I am so sad. But I know that God has mastery over all living creatures and cares about every one. She, too, is a part of the creation that will be redeemed. I’m just waiting.
The sweet little lady I know from church longs for her husband and her son. She misses them so much and some days it’s so hard. But she knows where they are and where she will be, too, and so she keeps marching on toward that day. She’s just waiting.
There was a time not long ago – especially back when I was in college – that the Christian faith was derided as being the easy way out. Many atheists and non-believers I knew found it weak and childish for people to pin their hopes on a happy ending: a God who wanted to fix everything, a world where the sadness and hurt disappears and the bad things go away, where goodbye isn’t forever. They dismissed it as fluff, a silly story we told ourselves to get by.
But now we live in such a cynical, desperate, despairing, bitter world. So many people shrug and says, this is all there is. They content themselves with the belief – the delusion – that life on this broken planet amidst all this wreckage of what should have been is the most we will ever get to have and the best we could ever hope for, that it’s preferable, somehow, to any other outcome. To me, that sounds like the easy way out. Like giving up. Like not bothering to even imagine or dream that there could be more, a dizzying and delightful more. It sounds like resignation and apathy. Indifference.
Christianity is the teeth-bared, white-knuckled grip to fervent belief that Jesus promised us more and better and so there is more and better. It’s the realistic admission that our world and the current state of affairs is a mess that is hopeless, lost, and wrecked without God to sort it out. It’s a clear-eyed vision, granted by the Spirit, not of what is but of what could be – what will be.
I love happy endings. And what I love best about God is that He does, too. Even in moments of pain and sadness, even in moments of grief, that’s what keeps me going and keeps my spirits up. How this will all wrap up has already been decided, and it’s going to be the best possible ending (and new beginning) for everything that we ever could have dared to dream or imagine.
We’re just waiting.
But one day, won’t have to wait any more.