I often find myself stuck sitting for long periods of time because my should’ve-been-dead-two-years-ago cat plants herself on me, expressing her displeasure in no uncertain terms at any of my attempts to move. I’m not even sure I like this cat anymore. Seven years of hearing your closest friends tell you that they don’t care about your cat will sometimes do that to a cat-loving person.
Two years ago, this same cat occupied almost every single one of my thoughts and prayers because I thought she was dying. Misha fought to survive the resection of an apparently aggressive squamous cell carcinoma under her tongue. The world could have been burning outside my front door, but all I could think about and pray about was Misha.
I prayed for her to either have a miraculous recovery or at least a miraculous death, basically one that didn’t involve me taking her to the vet to hold her while he put her down for good. Misha’s diagnosis came with a prognosis of only six months to live, so I anticipated the worst. I’m not even sure what my children ate during her convalescence, but I clearly remember feeding her pureed chicken in a leek infused broth through a syringe. My plants all died that fall; the children lived.
When Misha was well enough to use her mouth again, she resorted to systematically pulling out most of her gorgeous tortoiseshell fur in large clumps. I held her as often as my life would allow during the day and strapped a regal Elizabethan collar on her at night to keep her from completely stripping herself bare. “She’s stressed out,” our concerned vet condemned, “probably because you’re not home all day. Who’s really watching her? She just needs some attention. Let’s try Prozac.” For her or for me, I wondered as I chewed the left side of my lower lip raw.
After two months of pureeing and placing Misha’s food on expensive cake stands so it was just the right height for her to access with her Elizabethan collar, I was done. After three more weeks of sustaining scratches to squirt Prozac directly into the back of her throat because she wouldn’t eat the food that it was mixed in, I was beyond done. Done! I had officially reached the point of not caring anymore. My friends won. I couldn’t care even if I wanted to because all of my care had been pureed and crushed and squirted into Misha.
Yet here I am today, irritated by the fact that Misha proved our vet very wrong by living way past her six-month deadline and simultaneously concerned that if I move, it might upset her soft, throaty purr and interrupt the semi-conscious euphoria of her tenth catnap today. So much for my thoughts and prayers that are as fickle as the weather in Ohio.
Speaking of #thoughtsandprayers, have you ever read or heard a phrase that has completely lost its meaning as this one has. I don’t mean lost as in you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up somewhere you weren’t planning on going. I mean lost like a ball in tall weeds; the kind of lost that makes you say, “Game over. Let’s go home.” Not surprisingly, I have now developed a certain sense of caution when it comes to trusting my own thoughts and prayers. I have found that my heart tends to change its mind in one-half less than no time at all.
In her book, Bird by Bird Anne Lamott quotes C. S. Lewis from his book Surprised by Joy alluding to this chaos of the heart. Lewis talks about looking inside himself to find “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.” The prophet Jeremiah was a little less whimsical in his assessment of the heart. He called it like he saw it, stating, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
While the story about my cat might be a silly little anecdote to confirm this statement, it is an accurate representation of what my fickle heart and mind look like when they are left dependent on their own wisdom and perspective. Inconsequential for a seven pound cat who continues to thrive, but for weightier matters, there is no doubt that I need a plumbline and a scale outside myself. Conventional wisdom to follow my heart can be disastrous, unless I replace it with Spirit-wisdom that tells me to examine my heart instead.
An examination, however, can only be completed in comparison to a perfect standard and that Perfect Standard is The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, Jesus Christ. The same Jeremiah who called the heart “deceitful above all things” also prophesied a new covenant in Jeremiah 31, one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible. Kicked to the curb more than most other Old Testament prophets, he was still able to foretell a time when God Himself would put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts, pledging Himself to us as we pledge ourselves to Him (Jeremiah 31:33).
How then do I examine my heart to ensure that the #thoughtsandprayers that originate in them are less me-driven and more Spirit-driven? The apostle John has something to say about that in 1 John 3: 19-24 (NIV), “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: we know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
Read also what the apostle Paul has to say regarding the work of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 (NIV), “these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
Friend, does your heart rest in His presence and do you have the mind of Christ? We could sit for days and still be unable to mine the two stanzas quoted above unless the Spirit himself draws us in to do the work that only He can do. Unless we examine our heart and consider our fickle ways, unless we turn our feet towards His unchanging Word, and unless we live a life of complete surrender open to true examination by the Holy Spirit, we are as lost as a ball in tall weeds ourselves.
May this not be true for any of us. May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in His sight. May we have the confidence before God to receive anything we ask because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. May we ultimately have the mind of Christ and be guided in all our thoughts and prayers, not by human wisdom, but by the Spirit Himself!