The bible says each of us must take up our cross, but crosses come in many shapes. My friend Sydney, a kindly pastoral worker for the local church, had a cross shaped like a cat.
This cat, which lived next door to Sydney, was a bulky, unattractive animal. His elderly mistress, Mrs. Potter, was neither a church-attender nor an easy person to befriend. Sydney had only managed a nodding acquaintance over the years.
Sydney hated cats, but he was a good man. He tolerated Mrs. Potter's cat using his garden as a short-cut. It was when the animal selected a cherished flower-bed as his regular toilet area that something in Sydney snapped. Picking up a shoe one day, he flung it through the window, catching the startled cat in mid-toilet and sending it scuttling over the fence.
Mrs. Potter appeared instantly to lodge a furious complaint. She’d witnessed the whole appalling episode, and was shocked that a representative of the Church of England could behave so violently towards a dumb beast.
Sydney grovelled and repented, but to no avail. He, a Christian, had failed to love his neighbour as himself. Instead, he had slung a shoe at her cat.
How to make amends? An idea! In his garage stood a bag containing a little coal. Mrs. Potter, a pensioner, used a large open fire in her sitting room. The coal could be a peace offering.
When he presented the bag of coal with his best wishes, Mrs. Potter's eyes lit up, and Sydney returned home hoping that a thaw had set in in their frozen relationship.
Later on that fateful autumn evening, Mrs. Potter emptied the coal onto her fire, then settled back to enjoy the warmth.
Sadly, Sydney had forgotten that, in addition to the coal, there were some small pieces of broken glass in the bottom of that bag. Having attained a certain heat in the fire these pieces exploded, shooting out into the sitting-room and severely injuring Mrs. Potter's cat.
The veterinary bills were vast. Sydney ruefully reported that the likelihood of Mrs. Potter applying for membership of a church capable of employing a psychopath who had embarked on a coldly cynical campaign to murder her cat, was less even than in past years.
When Sydney meets Job in heaven they’ll compare notes.
"With me it was boils," Job will say."
"With me," Sydney will reply sadly, "it was a cat."
We may laugh, but Job and Sydney and you and I are asked by God to carry the burden that has been placed before us, however strangely shaped.