When babies are born, their legs may be skinny or chubby or somewhere in between, but those legs are pretty much only for show. They’re certainly not going to walk out of the maternity ward when it’s time to go home. But over the next few months they’ll use them to roll over, then crawl, then walk. By and by they’ll even run around and probably get themselves into all kinds of mischief. But that’s human progression, after all. Parents lug babies around, but there comes a time when those babies must make their own footprints in the sands of this world. That being said, even older children and adults sometimes find themselves needing to be carried. First responders carry a woman away from the scene of an accident because both of her legs were shattered in the collision. A man in a motorcycle crash finds himself paralyzed from the waist down. Overcome by grief upon the news that her son is not coming home from war, a mother slumps to the ground; in her husband’s strong arms they reenter their house of mourning. Yes, there are times when people make no footprints in the sand, because they’re in the arms of someone stronger than they.
The popular poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” uses this image to depict our walk with God. The dreamer sees that, during most of his life, there are two sets of footprints in the sand, where he and God walked side by side. But he notices, to his dismay, that during the “lowest and saddest times of his life,” there’s only one set of footprints. When he asks the Lord about this, He tells the dreamer that “during those times of trial and suffering, it was then that I carried you.”
Okay, but what if that person got so comfortable in the arms of the Lord, so accustomed to being lugged around, that he never wanted to walk beside the Lord again? That question, and the frustration with the perceived spiritual laziness behind it, prompted an anonymous person years ago to compose a parody of the popular poem entitled, “Butt Prints in the Sand.” You can read the entire poem here. The gist of it is that, when the dreamer saw prints in the sand “too big for feet,” he asked the Lord what those were. Here is God’s response:
“My child,” He said in somber tones, “For miles I carried you alone. I challenged you to walk in faith, But you refused and made me wait.”
“You disobeyed, you would not grow, The walk of faith, you would not know. So I got tired, I got fed up, and there I dropped you on your butt.”
“Because in life, there comes a time, when one must fight, and one must climb. When one must rise and take a stand, or leave their butt prints in the sand.”
I would venture to say that there’s something in both of these poems that appeals to us. We like the idea that we can usually make it on our own, but when times get tough, the Lord is there to pick us up and carry us through it. We also like the idea that being carried around for too long can breed spiritual laziness, that one must meet that demand of the Lord to plant those feet of faith on the ground and walk like a man. We find the footprints poem comforting and we find the butt prints poem challenging.
But, when we search the Scriptures, we find the truth that both poems are a lie. They are as wrong as wrong can be.
While the Scriptures do encourage spiritual growth, that growth is never anything but growth into Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if it’s the day we’re baptized or the day we pass from this world, we are nowhere else but in and of the body of Christ. There are never two sets of footprints in the sand. If there are, heaven forbid, we are no longer a Christian, but have squirmed out of the arms of our Savior and struck out on our own on a path that leads to destruction. To walk by faith is to walk as one who wears the legs of Jesus, who has been clothed with the flesh of Christ, for whom life is nothing more than getting used to his baptism, getting used to the fact that he no longer lives on his own, but Christ lives in him and he in Christ.
When I see a father holding his baby in his arms—a baby that cannot live apart from his care, a baby that needs him night and day, a baby whose entire existence depends upon the love and nurture of his father—then I see a true vision of my relationship with my heavenly Father. I am in His arms. I am wholly dependent upon Him for everything. I live and move and have my being exclusively in Him. When times are sweet or sour, high or low, I do not walk; I am carried by the one who, in His Son, carried the cross up to Calvary for me, and was bound to it with nails, that I too might be crucified with Christ, so that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
I leave no footprints in the sand as I walk beside Jesus. Nor will God ever drop me out of frustration and leave my butt prints in the sand. There are only the footprints of Him who is my all in all, who carries me in Himself. Apart from Him I am nothing, but in Him I am everything He wants me to be.
P.S. If you’d like to read a much better, truer parody of the parody of Butt Prints in the Sand, then click here. Pastor Robert Schaibley wrote this as a true expression of what the Christian life is all about.
If you enjoyed this reflection, then please check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!
The poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com. Thank you!