A faith that fits like a comfortable pair of shoes

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 28, 2011

My feet have been teaching me a valuable lesson lately about walking with God.

About two years ago, I started having a lot of pain in my feet. Some days, it was almost impossible to walk, and the strolls along park trails that I used to so enjoy ceased being enjoyable, and finally ceased altogether.

Doctors’ prescriptions helped some – for a while, at least. But the problems soon got worse.

So I tried changing my footwear, but that didn’t do much good, either.

Not much good at first, that is, until Adam Doyle, a savvy young clerk at Trailblazer Camping and Outdoor Store in Cochrane, studied my feet and made a rather startling discovery.

Now, all my adult life I’ve required narrow-fitting shoes of a certain size. It never occurred to me that my feet would change size with age. In fact, in recent years, any time I’d purchased new shoes, this or that clerk would make a quick assessment and confirm, yes, I had narrow feet, and shoes in my usual size should work just fine.

But lately, they didn’t. Even though they felt good at the time of purchase, it wasn’t long before my feet were hurting again, especially after the heels wore down a bit.

Adam went to the trouble of remeasuring a whole bunch of things about my feet and concluded that, although I still had narrow heels, other parts of my feet had expanded. He suggested I try a larger-size shoe with a different kind of heel, then discussed with me a special way of lacing them so that my feet fitted comfortably at the heels while having more room at the arches and toes.

Wow! In less than a week, I was walking normally. The other day, I even took a leisurely fall-in-the-foothills stroll with my wife along Cochrane’s friendly creek-side trails, the first such walk in many a moon. I breathed in leafy autumn aromas and listened once more to the birds and babbling brook. Life was good.

The problem? My old shoes were too small. My conception of proper fit had not kept pace with the reality of my more mature needs as a 71-year-old.

So, what does this have to do with my faith?

It reminded me of the 1952 book, Your God Is Too Small, by J.B. Phillips.

Phillips was a British Bible translator who gained fame for his very popular modern English paraphrase of the New Testament. In Your God Is Too Small, he writes:

“The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static.”

It’s “obviously impossible for an adult to worship” such childish conceptions of God, he says, “unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life.”

I had read Your God Is Too Small many years ago when just beginning my own involvements in Bible translation. Was I finally coming to terms with some of my immature conceptions of God as I confronted my bewilderment over a painful misfit in the face of adult realities?

Rethinking Phillips’ words required that I distinguish between childish and child-like. They’re definitely not the same.

A child-like faith is one that instinctively longs for God, much as a newborn child longs for its mother – a longing relationship based on trust.

Childish is quite a different matter. Childishness is all about a fantasy world of demanding our own way regardless of the needs of others and treating God as our personal Santa-in-the-Sky.

A mature faith is one that has discarded such childish narcissistic, escapist notions and has embraced a walk with God that, characterized by upward-looking child-like trust, is outward-looking in its relationship to others and the universe. It’s simply what’s expected of us as human beings, created in the image of a compassionate God, experiencing life in the real world. 

So, returning to the example of my feet, it’s true, of course, that growing older is not only a question of having shoes of the appropriate size for my needs now.

None of us would seriously question the need for regular eye exams, for instance, to make sure our glasses were the right prescription for our advancing years.

And what’s that my wife’s saying? Something about having my hearing checked, too?

But it’s been my feet that have been crying out for my attention these past months. And what they’ve been saying is to learn a valuable spiritual lesson about a faith that fits like a comfortable pair of shoes:

Good for the soles; good for the soul.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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