You know it well.
It’s been around for a long time.
It’s one of the most beloved poems ever written. Mary Stevenson was the author, and it was first published back in 1936 during the height of the Great Depression. Goes like this:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
I thought of this poem recently upon seeing a young family walking through a shopping mall. A young boy about 3 insisted on running ahead of his parents, only to trip and fall. Down he went on the brightly polished floor’s surface. It was a hard floor, and no doubt a painful fall.
“Carry me, Daddy. Carry me! I want you to carry me! Carry me, Daddy!” the little fellow persisted.
Instead, the young Daddy did something I found most admirable. He asked his older son to reach down and take little brother’s hand, holding it carefully as the two of them walked along. Side by side. Hand in hand. Safely together once again. And then, in a while, big brother let go and here’s what happened. I watched as the little boy walked along independently, safely, placing himself in between Daddy and big brother. Not racing ahead as before. But walking alongside. Safely.
This helped me realize something about myself.
And about God.
The God who I cry out to “carry me!” during my weakest and darkest of times. Only to find that God doesn’t pick me up and carry me after all. Instead, he has the older son, the one named Jesus, reach down and take my little hand, holding it carefully as the two of us walk along. Side by side. Hand in hand. Safely.
During ”the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat,” I've probably had the wrong idea about God. I've probably assumed God picked me up and carried me. Saved me by doing “for” me. And in so doing I've probably missed how it was God instead asked Jesus to take my hand and walk with me. You know. To make two sets of footprints. To save me by doing “with” me. Instead of carrying me.
And so my faith now has it that Jesus died with us on the cross. That God knew we each one had a cross we’d have to carry in this world. One that would pull us to the hard floor or surface and leave marks or wounds or tears or other signs of brokenness. Where “the fall” of humanity was concerned, God knew it was inevitable. That running ahead on our own would eventually cause us pain. The kind of pain where we’d cry out, “carry me, Daddy. Carry me!”
So what do you think?
Is it possible that Jesus carried his own cross in this world, was pulled down, marked, wounded, and broken? And then resurrected by the hand of the Father? So we could be saved by following his example, and doing likewise? Atoned. At-one-ed in our brokenness. And our resurrection. Not because of what he did for us. But with us. Refusing to carry us. But always offering a hand to walk with us.
Leaving two sets of footprints.
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
and all the world go free?
No, there's a cross for everyone,
and there's a cross for me.
Thomas Shepherd, 1855