You remember that sentimental Footprints poem that is mass-produced on bookmarks sold at the register at Christian Bookstores and also found cross-stitched and hanging in the homes of those sweet old ladies who make the best casseroles at the church fellowship?
You know the one. Oh look, I’m walking with God because you can see the 2 sets of footprints in the sand. Oh no, there’s only one set of footprints now. Where did God go? And God’s like, “I didn’t go anywhere. I was carrying you through those hard times.”
That’s cute, and I know the sentiment has encouraged many people. But I’ve been walking with God for over 15 years now, and that poem does not describe my experience.
I’m not saying that God has ever left me. He hasn’t. I am saying that I’m an ornery and stubborn little thing.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been just casually strolling down the beach hand-in-hand with my Father when life has been good and easy. Oh wait, life’s hard now, time for a piggy-back ride. My Footprints vision would look much different.
You’d see my footprints jet off of the path to chase something shiny. You’d see God’s footprints chase after me again and again. You’d see butt-prints where I just sit in the sand because I don’t want to walk anymore.
“God what’s that mess over there? If I cock my head to the side slightly and squint my eyes, it kinda looks like I was making a sand angel.”
“No. That, my sweet, little, stubborn child, is where you pitched a fit because I asked you to surrender something that you loved dearly, but would ultimately not be the best for you.”
“Oh yeah. You were right about that one.”
“I must be the slowest learner. It looks like I just walked a few feet and collapsed and then a few more feet and collapsed again. How many times did you have to deal with me and my silly tantrums?”
“You surrendered that dream like I asked, and it broke your heart like we both knew it would. My heart broke too. You were overwhelmed with grief, and somedays your sadness was all you could give me. Those weren’t tantrums. Those were the times you couldn’t walk any further. Those were the times we stopped, and I just held you.”
“Why didn’t you just carry me through those times? Why didn’t you just take the sadness away?”
“If I simply carried you or took away the sadness immediately, you would not know how to stand firm on my promises. You dream of scaling mountains, but you’ll never be strong enough. If I carried you through the valleys, you would not learn how to lean on me for each step and never know how to depend on my strength instead of your own.”
“Sometimes I wish you had given me smaller dreams. Maybe then my heart wouldn’t have to hurt this much.”
“Smaller dreams? Your dreams are already far too small.”
“Ok, God. They seem too big to me, but if we’re going to dive into that discussion, can we at least take this vision somewhere else? You know how much I dislike the beach because of the lack of shade and all the sand.”
My walk with God has been hard and messy, but beautiful in its own way.
This past year has felt like my heart was laid bare on the sand and wave after wave kept pounding against it relentlessly. The waves are still pounding, but that brokenness has spurred me on to dream bigger than I ever dared to dream before. That pain has sent me running to the arms of my Father and depending on Him for strength and comfort.
Maybe the best dreams come from the broken hearts held together only by God’s love because those hearts know the reality of loneliness and suffering but still dare to hope that God can turn brokenness into something beautiful.