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Hope Is a Pair of Shiny Red Shoes

Hope Is a Pair of Shiny Red Shoes

Hope is a pair of shiny red shoes

The girl next to me in my Intro to Political Theory class wore shiny red shoes. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. I imagine that a person with shiny red shoes always feels put together and confident. My own shoes often tend toward the practical. You know, black “go-with-anything” boots or the classic brown loafers. The closest I came to red shoes was the year that I bought maroon Danskos. Even though they were comfy and expensive for my young mom budget, they didn’t evoke feelings of luxury. Maroon Danskos are for comfort and ease. Red shoes are for joy.

Right now, my daughter is consumed with my black peep toe wedges the same way I am consumed with red shoes. She eyes them and tries them on, parading around with an air of confidence and elegance. These shoes take her to dances and parties for fancy ladies (we say this in an uppity accent—faunncy ladies). This is almost certainly an improvement over her Mary Janes, which just take her to school and sometimes the grocery store. I understand. Even my nicest pair of shoes only take me to limited places.

Kids' shoes

Of course, if we think about shoes very much, we’re reminded of the old adage “before you judge another, walk a mile in their shoes.” This always makes me think of beat up loafers and worn out tennis shoes. I remind myself of this saying when I’m critiquing a decision someone made, or analyzing whether the man begging at the intersection is worthy of my dollar. “Walk a mile in their shoes,” I whisper before handing over whatever change I happen to have.

The difference between the red shoes of my fantasies and the worn out tennis shoes of my compassion is stark. The red shoes are shoes of joy. They are shoes that invite dancing and laughter, beckoning me toward a life lived enthusiastically and with abandon. The tennis shoes are shoes of sympathy and humbleness. They ground me in realities of the world and remind me not to let me think too highly of myself.

This is probably part of the allure of red shoes. Their impracticality, their shininess, the very joie de vivre that makes them appealing is a bit like a vacation in the Carribean. It’s exciting and exotic but cut off from real life. The real world is practicality and hardship, the need to run to keep up with life and the ability to walk comfortably next to someone who is hurting. Real life needs practical shoes.

Practical shoes

Lately, though, I’m rethinking those red shoes. It seems to me that I might have underestimated them. What I took for reckless abandon and a certain cockiness may in fact be something more profound. Maybe those red shoes are shoes that invite us into infectious living, drawing attention to the way we walk and the love we offer.

While mentally walking in another’s worn out tennis shoes is helping me learn compassion, fanciful strolls in red shoes are calling me to something even bigger: hope. They remind me not of a light hearted optimism (“oh, everything will work out, tra la la”) but of a fierce grounding in a God of abundance.

Faced with this abundance, this love, this joy for life, we might start asking new questions. We might stop looking for the bare minimum we can do for another person and start looking for the most we can do. Why walk in another’s shoes when you can dance in them instead?

Why stop at easing suffering when we could be bringing joy?

I know, that’s not an easy idea. It’s a red shoe idea—an idea that makes our hearts flutter but seems unattainable. Maybe, though, we need more red shoe ideas. Maybe tennis shoe ideas—practical, safe and helpful as they are–aren’t cutting it anymore. Or at least, aren’t cutting it all the time. Maybe we need to open ourselves up to the possibility that there’s a place in our closets for red shoes and tennis shoes.

I’m into experiments so I’m going to suggest this one. Let’s practice looking for red shoe opportunities. Let’s practice looking for opportunities to bring joy and real hope to others. Let’s practicing dancing, not just walking.

My running shoes are sitting by the door, reminding me that ideas are great but its feet-on-the-pavement actions that will make a difference. So here are some questions I’m going to be asking to help me make the shift to red-shoe living.

Red Shoe Living2

You see the difference in the questions, right?  Both are important, really, they are.  Sometimes all I can do mentally, physically or emotionally is try to summon up a bit of compassion.  But those red-shoe questions are coming from a place of abundance.  They’re coming from a place of hope–a place that trusts that there is enough room for everyone at the party.

Hope For The Time Of Doubt

Hope For The Time Of Doubt

Friend, I see you in this hard time. I know it’s a struggle, this faith business. I know that sometimes it all seems like a crazy dream or a silly idea that some people invented. Opium for the masses and all that. I know what a dark night of the soul feels like. I know how it feels to have your heart break because you can’t find God right now. I know how you’re asking for prayers and simultaneously wondering if it even matters. Is anyone listening out there?

I want you to know that I know. I see you there because it’s a place I’ve lived. I’ve been there, pacing the floor in the middle of the night, wondering about life and meaning and God and is it all in vain? You can see the place on the carpet where I’ve worn it down with all my pacing. Right there, down the middle. See?

I see you looking for the way out. The hallway of faith used to be so clear but now the light is dim and the doorway isn’t marked. What was that about following Jesus? Because his footsteps are getting pretty faint.

hallway

I have some words of wisdom I’ve saved up for occasions like this. I’d like you to know that doubt and belief aren’t opposites. No, they’re just two sides of the same experience. God can work with doubt. Every story of every biblical figure is a story of doubt. (I dare you…find one that isn’t.)

Plus, there’s a thing that Richard Rohr said when I heard him speak last summer. “There’s no shortcut to the transcendent.” This is written in my notes in large letters. Apparently, we have to go through the nitty-gritty in order to grow.
Of course, this sucks and is a small comfort when you’re in it but the point is, you’ll make it out. You will. You won’t be the same person you are now but you’ll make it.

Those might be helpful things to ponder. However, I definitely won’t tell you that a spiritual crisis is required for growth. A mentor told me this once and I cried all night. That’s just discouraging news, to think you’ll have to do this again someday. (Although, when you get there, you’ll have a little more strength because you’ll know that you did it before and you can do it again.)

Those are my words of wisdom, for what they’re worth. Really, though, the most important thing I can say is this:

I believe it for you.

I believe you will come out of this. I believe that God is there, and when you can find that again, you will run to God like a child finding a lost parent. And then you might go ahead and yell a bit, like a parent finding a lost child. You know, the kind of yelling that’s only brought on by intense love coupled with incredible fear. “Don’t ever do that to me again.” This is ok, too, when you find your way again.

Exit sign

I believe you will find your way again. Sometimes the trick to weathering a period of doubt and desperation is just to let someone else hold your faith for you. Give it up. Let them believe a bit because you just can’t.

I know, that sounds crazy. You’re used to bearing it alone, walking your own separate groove into the carpet because we don’t talk about faith and doubt very well. But trust me, it’s ok to let go of this need to hold it all together. Just set it down for a while.

Know this, though: someday, when the light becomes clear again, you’ll walk out. You’ll walk out and regroup, you’ll run and hug and scream, and when you’ve rested, you’ll turn around and look back. You’ll see that place you used to walk, the windowless room and the lack of exit signage and you’ll feel relief that you’re not there anymore. Then you’ll peer just a little bit closer, trying to figure out why that place had such a strong hold. When you squint, you’ll see another dim figure pacing the floor. You’ll know just what to do. You’ll carefully reach in just enough to hold their hand and whisper quietly, “I believe it for you.”

And you will.