Every now and then it’s helpful to experience what it’s like for the shoe to be on the other foot – and for that matter, the socks as well.
About a decade and a half ago I was walking our two exuberant Australian Shepherds on a local trail. When a jogger approached us from the other direction, with her well-behaved dog cantering alongside, our dogs (still in the early stages of grasping canine etiquette) stayed steady until the last possible moment – at which time they joyfully lunged toward their potential new friend.
Unfortunately, my lower back didn’t get the message in time. I felt a sharp twinge. “No problem,” I thought, reeling in my panting mutts. “I’ll just walk it off.”
Four hours later I could barely move. The next morning it was a major task just moving my feet from the bed to the floor. But men are resilient. We will go hours ignoring the good counsel of people who love us (“Please see a doctor,” my wife pleaded). Maybe it will get better all by itself, I thought.
But by dawn of the second day the pain and immobility were excruciating. And now I had a problem. I needed to get to work. Mary Sue had already left for her job. Try as I might, I couldn’t extend my hands far enough to reach my own feet.
That’s when I found myself knocking on the bedroom door of our college-age son, who was home for the holidays. He blinked his eyes open when I walked into his room. “Tyler,” I said, “would help me put on my shoes and socks?”
Tyler laughed. It was quite a moment. All of a sudden, the roles of father and son were reversed. How many times in the past had I held his feet in my hands so I could pull on his socks, and then lace up his tiny shoes? He had been helpless to help himself. But now I was the helpless one. Tyler held my feet in his hands as he pulled each sock over my toes.
I felt strangely sensitive about my feet – as if I had somehow defaulted on a fundamental commitment to manage my own needs. My guess is that those same prideful thoughts raced through the minds of the disciples when Jesus took a towel and a pan of water and washed away the dirt and manure that was caked between their toes.
Peter, typically, pushed back the hardest. “Lord,” he said, “you shall never wash my feet!” Pride can make us say and do some incredibly foolish things. But Jesus would have none of it. “Unless I wash you, Peter, you can’t be part of what I’m doing” (John 13:1-8).
I take that to mean that none of us will ever get to heaven with our pride intact. We will either let down our guards, allowing others to help us and serve us, or we will never really experience the reality of grace.
Unless we humbly yield to our need to let others love us – and to let God love us above all – we will go to our graves adamantly insisting that we tie our own shoes.
And we will needlessly die with cold hearts and cold feet.
A few days later my back was back.
But I’m not sure I’m walking any straighter today than when I let one of my kids have the privilege of helping his helpless dad.