My family rescues animals. Not out of save-the-world softness of heart, just because we seem to stumble across needy pets that others have thrown away. Twice in two years someone abandoned their pregnant cat in the back parking lot of the church where I work and worship. Twice in two years these two different cats decided to have their kittens under the church buildings. Twice in two years we wound up with kittens. Really, we're not even cat people.
But in this latest batch, there is a special cat. She is beautiful, and although her momma was a plain black and white kitty, she looks for all the world like a pure-bred seal point. Her deep, startlingly blue eyes are wide and lovely in her little face. Her fur puffs around her like an angora wrap, smooth and unbelievably soft. She is sweet, and quiet, and acts like a dainty little lady at all times. Noting the large brown spot right on her nose, our family immediately christened her "Button."
Unfortunately, Button has a problem. Every morning, when we come downstairs and Button wakes up, she stares at us with panic-stricken eyes - runs from us, hides under the couches, seeks the far corners of the living room. Seemingly, she can't remember us. We terrify her. It is truly sad.
If she manages to escape out into the garage, it might be days before we can coax her back into the house by leaving a can of food and an open door. The longer she is away, the harder it is for her to return. We are afraid that if she ever gets left outside, she may never return; and she would surely not be able to fend for herself.
Yet after being in the house all day, by nighttime she will climb onto the sofa with me. She will purr, cuddle, and beg to be petted. She loves to be held, and stroked under the chin. The more she is around us, the more she loves us. Separation breeds further separation.
Today as I tried to coax her in from the garage, where she was hiding in abject terror after waking up with apparently no idea where she was, I thought how much our relationship with God resembles poor Button and her problem.
When we abide with Him, really live our lives in the realization and fulfillment of His presence, we grow closer and closer to Him. We love Him, and want more of His presence in our every day. Life lived in the certainty of Jesus-with-us carries boundless possibilities, eternal promises, and joyful praise.
But, when busyness, or sin, or whatever-crowds-our-lives pushes God out of one day; it is easier to leave Him out of the next one. Absence sometimes makes the heart grow hard. The enemy is happy to use our forgetfulness against us, turning absentminded neglect of our relationship with Jesus into conscious disregard, and then into indifference. At some point, we lose touch with Him. We lose the sense of His presence. We forget the warm peace of walking with Him, abiding throughout our day in constant silent conversation. Then, at some point not-so-far down that road, turning back seems frightening - or at least intimidating. We are daunted by the thought of beginning again, of bridging our absence. So, we hide.
But you know what really speaks to me? Button's inability to rid herself of fear. When she is hiding, she never gets over the fear. In every movement, in every meow, in every panted breath - she is afraid. It's only when she comes in and settles down with us that she calms down, can relax and purr herself to sleep.
I think it's that way with us, too. If through forgetfulness or busyness we allow other callings to crowd out God in our lives, it always leads to fear. The only place we can find total peace, is right in the center of God's presence.
So, if you are hiding from God - or maybe if someone you know and love is hiding from Him - remember His words, "Fear not, for I am with you..." Is. 41:10. If you realize that you have been neglecting His presence in your everyday busyness, remember too: It is only in His presence that we will ever find absence from fear, complete peace, and true rest.
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