Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. (James 4.8)
Our younger cat, Maxwell, was a birthday gift to me. And what was most surprising was his color. He’s a black cat, the only kind that Walt swore would never live in our house. When Walt went to the shelter, he looked at Max and kept going. After the person assisting him went off to find a more likely candidate, Walt turned around to see Max staring back at him. He watched a half-dozen potential owners pass Max by, just as he had done. Each time, Max’s gaze returned to Walt. By the time the assistant returned, Walt was less interested in the new cat than the tiny black Egyptian Mau with enormous green eyes. “His owners didn’t have time for him,” the assistant said. Walt muttered something about hoping he’d find a good home, to which the assistant—no doubt sensing that Max had already stolen Walt’s heart—replied, “It’s September and if we don’t place him soon, he’ll be here a while. We don’t give away black cats in October, because people take them for Halloween parties and haunted houses and then put them out on the streets.” Walt glanced back at Max. Their eyes met again. “I want him,” he said.
Max was four months old when we got him. While we don’t know if he was actually abused, his demeanor clearly suggested his stay with the first owner was lonely. He was very skittish, approaching us tentatively, as if he expected to be brushed aside. Clearly, he wanted us to love him. But he didn’t know how to make that happen. So he’d come toward us, eyes filled with longing, without getting near enough for us to touch him. Any time I reached for him, he backed off. And that caused my heart to ache. This little guy who wanted affection more than anything was afraid of allowing himself to be loved. After two years, he’s doing much better. He knows we love him, and he has no problem commanding our full attention. He’s a total sweetheart.
Sometimes I look at Max and I’m reminded of how we are with God. Deep inside we know God loves us. We crave God’s love more than anything. But past experiences have made us wary of being loved. We approach God tentatively, expecting to be brushed us aside. After all, who are we that God should love us? So many of us have been told God has no time for us. Many of us have been passed over for more appealing candidates. Many have been misused for the amusement of people who adopt us and then close their doors to us after they’ve had their fun. So we find ourselves walking toward God, but stopping short of God’s reach. Skittishness and fear keep us from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and affection. And that causes God’s heart to ache.
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you,” Scripture promises. The gulf that imposes itself between God and us seems too wide to bridge. We forget that reaching God only requires us to go half the distance. As we move toward God, God moves toward us. God is crossing the great divide that separates us, too. If Lent truly is a time when we turn away from our lonely past in search of God, we should claim it as our season of love. Each step forward brings God one step closer. When we meet, the love we crave will be there. All we have to do is allow ourselves to be loved.