This Exciting Thing Called Prayer, Part One: Desperate House Cat
Last week I was sitting with my beloved group at GreenTree, listening to prayer requests and jotting them down, and I began to smile when I looked at all the faces. Some I haven’t known very long; some are as familiar as relatives. Something startled me. A question, flashing in color, as I saw everyone in that moment. Do we—whether we’re fresh young spirits, steadily growing lives, or seasoned believers—really know, or remember, the pulsating power we have when we get together and pray?
Do we have any idea?
My cat offered me some thoughts a few days later.
(For the better parable, read the story of the persistent widow and the grumpy judge in Luke 18, told by the Master Storyteller. God just happened to use this one for me because it (or she) was in the house, in my face.) And if you like cats, you’ll appreciate my plight. If you don’t like cats, that’ll work too; you’ll feel my predicament even more.
Andrea isn’t a perfectly well-behaved cat. Really, she probably isn’t even an average-behaved cat. When she gets aggravated from too much handling, or simply feels grumpy, she does this ninja move and scratches my leg, leaving a long, red zipper-line. Then there’s the regular cat stuff: asking to go outside, then pawing at the door two minutes later because she’s changed her mind and wants to come inside; nose-bumping our elbows at the dinner table; stepping right in front of our feet when we walk through the house so that we’re in danger of crashing face-first onto the floor at any moment.
Yet, her most annoying cat trait of all might be worse than the scratching. It starts every day around 3:30pm and does not end until 4:45.
I’m sweeping the floor in the middle of the afternoon and I hear a familiar ring—whiny like an alarm clock, confident as a veteran salesperson. I hardly notice at first, for its very ordinariness. Minutes later, I’m putting the books in the shelf, and again it rings. Down the hall I go, sit at the computer, and the sound follows me, slicing the air with that round, tinny wail.
I swivel my chair around, look down at the ball of black fur with those large and glowing green eyes and reply, as I do every day around 3:30, “Andrea, it’s not time.”
I’d rather feed her at 6:00, when the family eats—or maybe 5:00 if that won’t do, since that’s at least a nice round marking-off-the-hour time. But long ago, through kitten-hood up to now, after long days of persistent begging, failed cat-diets, and behavioral training, the little thing wore me down to 4:45pm. And we’ve been there for quite some time.
Ten minutes later, I wince.
Really, I think cat meows are cute. I like little kitten yelps, I like to imitate cat-growls, and I get a kick out of the way our neighbor’s Tabby mutters to himself when he walks around in our yard. But like the story of those water-torture methods where the victim starts to feel each drop as a hammer on his skull, my cat’s meow turns, with each repetition, from cute to exasperating.
I love animals, I do. I’m not exactly an animal rights activist, but I have a compassion for the feelings of my Furry Americans. Even the deepest motherly love, though, can wear thin if stretched far enough. And so, my commitment to keep Andrea on schedule, despite her begging, changes from a quiet tolerance to a jaw-clenching resolve to hold on until 4:45.
Honestly!—Sometimes it reminds me of labor pains. At first there’s a good bit of time between contractions; then, they get closer and closer until you wonder when the full-blown symphony orchestra is going to just get on with it. This cat starts off small and ends up sounding just about like one of those big loud beeping hospital machines. And there it goes again—
Jesus uses an unjust (and cranky) judge in His parable, a man who is continually pestered by a widow who pleads with him for justice against her enemy. He doesn’t even have the tolerance and kind intentions toward the woman that I have toward my cat. Yet his resolve is growing thin too, with each knock, with each determined question. And, though he’s not the nicest guy on the planet, he finally gives in and helps her.
The One we pray to, in our circle at Growth Group, hears each knock, each repetition, the same ones, every week, the silent pleas, said in every prayer session:
Please heal my friend who has cancer.
Please help me to see hope in this. I feel like I want to give up.
Please keep my granddaughter safe as she leaves China.
Please help the families of the students who were killed.
Ra-eeeooooooowr . . . .
That rhythmic calling-out, and learning to be daring enough to continue, are as important as a baby’s growing awareness that his needs get met when he cries. It shows us our dependence. It reminds us that the very fact that our hearts are beating and our lungs are breathing is caught up in God. Through crying out, and practicing the faith not to give up, we learn who we are, and who God is. With a need as continual as a knock, metallic as a cat’s meowing, steady as an exhale—we are the abused widow, the impatient cat, the weak humans with our human days and cravings.
Yet there’s one very important difference: God is no cranky judge. God is no over-busy cat owner. God is no tired parent. God is Love. God is Wisdom. Jesus says, in His superior story, “to always pray and not give up.” To always pray and not give up—that is the nourishing breath we can take in, before we exhale our plea, our prayer, our cry that we have cried every day until now.
And so, when I get tired of working on my computer, and I glance over at the cat with the big moon eyes, and try to imagine what it must feel like to be a small creature, I finally forget my urge to whack her on the behind and I smile a little bit.
I look at the clock; it’s 4:41. I turn toward her; she jerks her body up in a burst of hope. When I stand up, she flies off the bed and skurries down the hall toward her bowl, delirious with joy that relief is finally coming. “Mreep! Mreep!” she sings in little joy-screeches; and I say, laughing at her silliness, “I guess four minutes early doesn’t matter.”
To always pray,
is the echo of Jesus throughout the world,
and not give up.