The Cat Who Complicated My Life

By Tom Gilson Published on January 14, 2017

My morning routine was a lot simpler today than it has been in a very long time. I didn’t take time to feed our cat before I started making coffee. She didn’t meow at me to sit down right now and don’t you dare wait for that coffee! so she could climb up on my lap. She didn’t almost trip me scooting through doors ahead of me.

Yep, it was a lot simpler. Simpler isn’t always better.

It was almost eleven years ago that our cat, Cali, followed our daughter home from school and adopted us. Our family’s first cat, Gracie, had died just nine days before that. “What, did someone put a ‘Vacancy’ sign up on our house?” I asked that day. Cali was deathly afraid of brooms at first, so we wondered what her life had been like before she came our way, but she settled in quickly to become a true member of the family.

Our best guess is that she was 3 to 5 years old when she arrived, which means she was maybe 14 to 16 years old when finally, yesterday, her years caught up with her. The veterinarian said it was probably cancer. I’d rather just say she died of old age. The funny thing is she never looked or acted old until the last three or four days.

So I wish my routine this morning could have been more complicated. I’d be a lot less sad right now. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’d be less of a wreck than I am right now. (“Stupid animals!” my mother used to say, adding what she really meant by it: “Why do we have to love them so much?”)

Simpler Isn’t Necessarily Better

I read a report once that claimed that couples with children aren’t any happier than couples who choose not to have any. I can believe it. People who have children in order to be more happy had better be prepared to wait a long time for that to happen. It depends on what you mean by “happy,” of course. A simple life can be happy in many ways, and children complicate things a lot. Definitely more than cats do — a serious understatement, no matter how much I emphasize “a lot.

Day after day I sacrificed that quiet cuppa for a cat who demanded my loving attention — imperiously, as only a cat can do.

Of course children can make their parents happy — happier than anything else in the world. They can also frustrate, grieve and annoy parents more than anything else in the world. The ups and downs can be unbelievable. So on the whole I wouldn’t doubt that the researchers are right, and it’s an even trade-off for “happiness.”

But there are other, more important questions they didn’t ask. Whose lives (on average) are richer and more meaningful: couples with children or those without? Whose lives (on average) experience and express more love?

I emphasize on average because with or without children, there are many ways that both single and married persons can enrich their hearts and open themselves to give and to receive true love. And it’s a question anyway: I don’t know how research on it would come out. My point remains the same, regardless: I’d bet a year’s salary that there’s a solid correlation between complicating your life in such a manner and making it richer, more loving, more joyful.

Self-Sacrificing Love

But I think I’ve been dancing around another word that describes it even better: sacrifice. You see, you have to understand how much I love my morning coffee and my morning quiet. Day after day I sacrificed that quiet cuppa for a cat who demanded my loving attention — imperiously, as only a cat can do. But that was a very small sacrifice on my part; indeed, I always enjoyed my times with Cali, once we settled down together. Sooner or later, sacrifices often pay themselves back that way.

Jesus told his disciples about a much greater level of sacrifice, with a much greater return in the end:

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

And later,

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:9:14)

That sounds complicated — and complicating — too. Which comes first — the sacrifice or the friendship or the love or the obedience? How do we actually live when we try to follow that instruction? No matter how you work out those answers, you can’t ignore the fact that Jesus demonstrated it Himself first of all. He laid down His life on the Cross for His friends, in obedience to His Father’s will, as an act of pure love.

Joyful Sacrifice

And He knew it would be worth it: He actually did it “for the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Our cat is gone. The little morning sacrifices I made day by day are over, and so is the particular brand of joy that came with them. It’s such a small thing in its way, but it illustrates the much larger, world-changing principle: true loving sacrifice brings true joy. There will be many more opportunities for me to learn and to practice that truth, even while I go on missing that little calico cat.

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