Our Willow, our feisty gray mouse hunter, left us last week for kitty heaven. Despite the fact that she was a member of our family for 15 years, I don’t know how much I loved her, not really. I certainly didn’t pay her much attention; she was a fixture in our garage, like the cars and bikes that shared her space. So I was utterly unprepared for the emotional storm that swamped me when it was clear we were going to lose her.
Willow came to our family when the kids were little, and her life spanned almost the whole of my children’s childhoods. Her season with our family represented my season of childraising, and I knew that in her passing, she took an important marker of their childhood with her. But the bittersweet reminder of Willow as childhood talisman could not explain my sobbing as I cleaned out what she left behind.
The day before she died, I had gone to check on her and I couldn’t find her. I frantically searched the garage; she was so weak she couldn’t have gotten far. I spotted her under the van, our old family van that, like her, was well-worn and used up. I stretched out my hand to her – she couldn’t come to me – and she raised her head ever-so-slightly, piercing me with sad, glowing eyes. She put her final scrap of energy into that look. It was as if she was saying, “I wish I could be ok for you, but this is all I can manage.”
And in that moment I knew that she had loved me better than I had loved her. As I looked into the dying eyes of my cat, I was undone: I don’t love my people the way they need me to.
Instead of loving my loved ones wholeheartedly, I love them according to what’s comfortable for me. I “loved” Willow for what she could do for me: catch mice, entertain the kids. This isn’t love; at best it’s appreciation. Instead of ministering to Rob and the kids in ways that mean something to them, I give them crumbs of what works for me. I wrap my love in shrouds of expectation and then wonder why they don’t always feel loved.
When I was young I had a rock polishing machine. The way it worked was that you put ugly stones in it along with sand and water. The polisher would turn incessantly for days and days until the ugly stone emerged beautiful, all its rough edges worn away to reveal lovely striations underneath. This is how I love. I am a polisher, wearing people away in an attempt to get them to be beautiful. But no one likes to be scrubbed raw. It’s not really love; it’s perfectionism and expectation.
How do you stop doing something you’ve always done, that’s as natural to you as breathing? I am a polisher and I don’t know how to be a soft comforting buffing cloth instead. Wanting to become a soft cloth isn’t enough to get me there. Knowing that it’s not my job to change people is a good start, but it isn’t enough either. All I know is that I want to love like Jesus loved.
So that’s my starting point, and it’s also my destination. Everything in between will have to come with the help of the Holy Spirit. If I learn to love better, if the people in my life can say of me that I’m a soft cloth, then I will know the Holy Spirit is at work.
I hope Willow would approve.
Photo via Visual hunt