Walking barefoot is hard. Mainly because our feet are made soft by our wearing shoes and socks all the time. If we walk or run a long distance we don’t think about doing it in bare feet. Why? Because the pain would be unbearable.
And yet, maybe, our comfortable and pain-free podiatory experience is not what is best for us – maybe a bit of pain in order to toughen up our feet would do us good.
Two articles by Jeff Dunn on the Internet Monk blog last week reflect on this thought:
The worst feet in the world undoubtedly belonged to St. Francis of Assisi. Francis walked miles everyday throughout the region of Italy where he and his followers preached the Gospel. He walked on broken rock, bare dirt, ice, snow, and thorny weeds each day–in his bare feet. His feet were a mass of bloody wounds, blisters and scars. Francis never owned a pair of shoes for long. If someone gave him sandals, he would only wear them until he met up with someone who had no sandals, and he would give his shoes away. Thus he was almost always barefoot.Perhaps he knew better than we the importance of walking barefoot.
And maybe the importance of walking barefoot is that it keeps us in touch with reality, as Dunn explains:
Walking barefoot allows me to touch this world as it really is, not as my soft-soled shoes tell me it feels like. And this world is a mess. There is a lot you will step in that is nasty and smelly if you go barefoot. There are rocks and sticks and thorns that will rip and tear your feet to shreds. It hurts to walk barefoot…But we don’t like pain and suffering. We buy books by the bushel that tell us God doesn’t want us to be in pain. We insulate our hearts against any kind of pain with conferences and sermons and songs that promise us unending good days. Yet without sensing pain, we do not know when we need to change something in our lives. If we are always wearing padded shoes, we will never feel the rough places in the ground, we will never learn to adjust our gait, we will never learn to walk–and run–with endurance. Pain may be telling us that we need to get off of this trail and take another. No, we are not to live in a place of pain purposely. But we need to be aware of what is causing the pain in order to take the proper action. And can we really feel that pain with shoes on our spiritual feet?
Taking the shoes off our spiritual feet – now there’s a thought. Do we really need to take ourselves out of our comfort zone so that we can feel the pain of the world around us?
Walking barefoot spiritually is where all followers of Jesus should be heading. We need to set aside the padding we have to keep us from feeling pain and enter the world as it truly is. As someone said….the ultimate barefoot walker is God Himself, who set aside His shoes to walk with us here on earth. But we need some practice walking barefoot. We need to build up calluses on our feet so they are tough enough to withstand the hard places we will be called to walk. Are we really ready to walk barefoot in this world?
Good question. Well, are we?
Walking barefoot with Jesus means taking this world as it truly is and presenting the gospel of grace as it truly is. There will be times when we will do this walking through lush, cool grass. There will be times when we do this walking on sharp, ice-covered rocks. Our call is to walk, not to judge the surface we are walking on.
Walking barefoot is hard physically – so why should we expect it to be any easier if we do it spiritually as well?
Maybe St Francis of Assisi had something after all. Maybe we should listen again to his witness. Maybe going barefoot is where the church should be, where we should be – and maybe a bowl and towel will help when we get there.