Clean Bill of Health

PixelLast week the vet declared that Pixel, the stray cat we’ve been helping, had a ‘clean bill of health.’

It was a wonderful day; the morning dance of coffee, showers, and cat breakfast went smoothly. I dropped her off at the vet before starting work and was able to hear the good news when I picked her up during lunch and brought her home.

We had a couple of tentative offers from friends to adopt her and were looking forward to seeing how long her flea-damaged coat would grow, given time.

All was well… but it wouldn’t last.

Wouldn’t you love to have a spiritual ‘clean bill of health?’ I know that I would. I would love to know that all was right with the world, externally and internally, that I was in sync with those around me and also with God.

As Christians, we divide ‘clean bill of health’ into two distinct parts – justification (being seen as right and beautiful by God), and sanctification (our journey to become more like Christ in our thoughts and actions).

Clean bill of healthBecause of this, we exist like Schrödinger’s cat in a quantum superposition, having two states at once. We both have and not have a clean bill of health at the same time.  We are justified, seen as perfect in God’s eye, when in practice our behavior and attitude is a long way from the perfection of Christ. As Christians, we spend our lifetimes trying to become the person God already sees us to be.

When I and my family saw past Pixel’s many health problems to the sweet cat she was, and invited the stray into our home, one could say this was a moment of justification and grace. She was loved. In our love for her we understood who she could be, and offered her a loving space in which she could start healing and becoming more of who she really was.

This past month has been a month of rigorous cat improvement. She received shots, oral surgery, flea treatments, eye ointment, and other palliatives. One could say she was on a path towards sanctification, towards perfecting herself now that she knew she was loved.

And then the moment came – the declaration as-if-from-above: Pixel has a clean bill of health. She was ready for her new owner! She had reached, we thought, the cat equivalent of sanctification, at least momentarily.

But it was only for a moment. While we loved her and thought her perfect (justification) and the vet declared her in perfect health (sanctification), no one was able to communicate that to the cat. She still thinks there is something wrong.

Over the past week I’ve noticed that she continues to groom and groom, trying to clean herself.  And as she grooms she’s creating a nearly-bare strip on one side of her back. Every day, I see more tufts of hair scattered on the floor. With every tuft of hair she pulls out of her back, she unravels the possibility of us finding someone who will adopt her.

“Don’t you understand?” I try to tell her with my eyes as I clean up the loose hair each morning. “You’re perfect as you are. You can stop now.”

But she doesn’t know the words behind the look in my eyes, and I can’t fathom what would cause her to continue to damage her beautiful fur, though we’ve tried everything to convince her to stop.

Pixel: What's that?We don’t even know if she can stop. Maybe it’s kitty OCD. Maybe she’s allergic. Maybe she still has some undetected pain and the over-grooming gives her the comfort that she needs. I’ve become a kitty Pastoral Counselor, trying to walk beside her, trying to understand what she’s going through, though I know that until I learn her language, her ways of communicating, I may never understand.

I guess sanctification may be as an impossible for cats as it is for humans. We are all Schrödinger’s cats, both one thing and its opposite; we are both fully perfect, and yet have a long way to go. As we strive to grow, sometimes we underachieve, sometimes we over-do it like Pixel, but either way we are loved by God.