I learned this phrase last week in reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. The story is of a young boy deeply impacted by his father’s death in the 9/11 attack on New York City. As he wrestles with that horrific event, his own guilt from presumed failures on that dark day, his lack of control and the likelihood of continued tragedy in his life, he often references his heavy boots.
Oskar’s improbable journey in solving a puzzle, following clues around the city as he believes his Dad intended, is his remarkable pathway to healing. His boots lighten as the load is shared, shouldered mostly by caring elderly folk who step into his journey. I love the multi-generational nature of his healing.
I first learned something about heavy boots a long time ago, when my little sister was four, perhaps five, years old. We were making our way across a muddy pasture when she became too mired to move another step. She started wailing, as she was wont to do. And I, only fourteen months older and not a whole lot bigger, was at loss for how to help.
Fortunately, Grampy was not far away, bouncing across a hayfield atop an ancient tractor. He noticed her plight, stopped his work and rushed to the rescue. Grampy pulled my sister and her boots out of the muck, carried her to safety, and set her down on solid ground.
This sweet memory is a perfect illustration of our heavenly Father’s care for us, affirmed over and over in scripture. One of the first verses our children learned in Sunday School was a simplified version of 1 Peter 5:7, “God cares for you.” I have certainly found this to be true. Many a time I have been stuck and wailing and always, somehow, rescued. Most often He’s used others to help pluck me from the muck.
Each time my boots have become too heavy — whether disheartened by my own failure, burdened by health concerns, frightened by an untenable situation, grieving a loss, or wounded and hiding from the world — I can recall exactly who came alongside. Often it’s been my husband or sister-friend; sometimes my aunt, my mom, or a colleague. And to my joy, as my children have matured into independent adults, God uses them, too.
Regardless, it is only done with “There, but for the grace of God, go I…” humility and compassion, rushing in with love, never arrogance or accusation. There is no I told you so or I can fix this for you, just a patient Let me love you while you wail. But my boots get lighter as we wait on God together. Love, like my Grampy, lifts heavy boots.
Don’t just pretend to love others, really love them. (Romans 12:9)