Inklings of Truth


Cat on a Hot Styrofoam Roof:

The Illusion of Security

By Audrey Stallsmith

Cats like warmth.  That’s one of the reasons they occupy people’s laps whenever possible.  When laps aren’t available, they look for other heat sources.

One of our cats recently has taken to lying on top of our homemade incubator, actually an old Styrofoam cooler heated by a light bulb, in which I am attempting to hatch guinea eggs.  Since he throws off the temperature by his presence, I have to throw him outdoors when I catch him there.

After a few rounds of this, you would think he would get the idea that he must stay off the enticingly warm Styrofoam box if he wants to remain in the house.  Not so.  No sooner does he get back indoors than he makes for that spot.  And he always looks baffled when I put him out again, as if he can’t comprehend why I suddenly “have it in for him.”  Or, in this case, “heave it out” for him!     

Although that cat does lie in my lap instead occasionally when I am reading in the evening, he probably would like to point out to me that this option is unavailable for most of the day when I am closed away from him in my writing room.  So what can a cat do except look for warmth elsewhere?  Fortunately, summer having arrived, he probably will get more warmth than even he prefers shortly.

Humans crave security in much the same way that cats crave heat.  No matter how many times we are torn away from it, we keep circling back to it in dumb persistence, baffled as to why God cruelly won’t allow us to keep it.

As a writer and sometime home health aide, I’ve always been poor, and often have had to depend on loans from my parents.  So I’ve always dreamed of being independent.  Though I’d love to be rich, I’ve about given up on that and happily would settle for having enough to get by without needing to ask for help. 

But, like that flimsy Styrofoam box which I only intend to heat for less than a month, any security that we find in this world is temporary.  It all can be wrested away from us in an instant by the death of a loved one, a sudden plunge in the stock market, a devastating fire, etc.  And, ultimately, by the fact that all of us are mortal and will die eventually.  So God wouldn’t be doing us a favor by allowing us to rely on something that won’t last.

Because this world is all we know, we tend to see it as reality and eternity as fuzzy.  But science has proved it’s actually time which is more than a bit hazy, so eternity should be our main preoccupation, our heavenly father our main security.  And He never intended us to be independent of Him. 

Eventually, as Thomas Merton points out in Seeds of Contemplation, we either will give in to  God or allow pride to separate us from him forever.  “Because our own resources inevitably fail us,” he writes, “we are all . . .subject to discouragement and to despair.”

“Despair says that I am God,” Joan Chittister agrees in Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, “and if I can’t do anything about the situation, then nothing and nobody can.”

Merton goes on to add that “Despair is the ultimate development of a pride so great. . .that it selects the absolute misery of damnation rather than accept happiness.”  Accept happiness as a gift, he means, rather than as something we earned ourselves. 

I recently watched Denial, the movie about Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt being sued by  Holocaust denier David Irving.  In that film, Lipstadt conceded that—even though accustomed to relying only on herself—she needed to stop arguing with her lawyers and trust them to defend her.  Just as she was the expert on history, after all, they were the experts on how to make a case in court. 

We, in turn, need to concede that we aren’t God and stop fighting the one who really is Almighty.  We can’t make security happen for ourselves.  But God will give us the eternal security that we crave once we finally admit  we can’t earn it and ask for it instead.  As Merton notes, “The only way to possess His greatness is to pass through the needle’s eye of your own insufficiency.”    

“Everything is yours,” he promises, “but on one infinitely important condition:  that it is all given.  There is nothing that you can claim. . .”

Granted, what God considers enough for us may not be what we consider enough.  But, just as I had good reasons for keeping the cat off that incubator, God must have good reasons for not giving me everything I want.  He is the expert on me, after all, and he knows what will be good for me and what won’t.

And he doesn’t have only myself to take into account.  Just as the cat’s insistence on warmth could have cost the developing guineas their lives, my insistence on safety rather than obedience doesn’t just affect me.  Perhaps I need to be torn from my grasping at security and tossed into the cold outer world occasionally, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others.