Shoestring Knots (or) “How I’m Learning to Unlearn Independence”

dsc04354My six year old daughter has nearly mastered the art of tying her shoes on her own. She learned how to tie laces a year or two ago, but still insisted on either myself or my wife tying them for her. Now, every morning, one of the last things she does, before we walk to the car to go to school, is to sit on our bench and tie her shoes. She always has a look of accomplishment every time she does it “all by myself.” However, once or twice a week my daughter walks to me with her head down and hands me one of her shoes, one which she has the lace so knotted up that it looks as if it’s a part of Clark Griswold’s Christmas Light Collection, without saying a word, I know what she is thinking, “Dad I still need your help.”

I have to admit, I learned to tie my shoes later in life than most kids. My parents had purchased me some of those wonderful Velcro shoes. It was my aunt who forced me to learn around the age of 7 how to tie my own shoes. I rarely need help now. That being said, my daughter’s “knot problems” are something I can still relate too. It’s not been that long ago I had to cut some laces off of a pair of Converse because I had them so knotted up, it was best to simply start over. Sometimes in life no matter how far you’ve come, no matter how independent we think we are, we end up in a situation where we learn we are not who we think we have become.

We live in a culture that prides itself on being independent. We are “Self-made” individuals, in need of no one’s help but our own. We are told we are weak if we need to ask for help, and if we do need help we do it through “self-help,” where we attempt to fix our own problems. We force feed these ideas on our children, and teach them to be able to do everything for themselves, this way they will never have to depend on someone else for them to accomplish anything.

Self-help. Self-discipline. Self-defense. Self-sufficiency. All badges of honor for us.

Dependency is for children.

Then we get knots in our shoes.

Ok, So maybe you haven’t had to cut any laces off of your tennis shoes lately, typically life is never so simple. Many of us have faced tragic losses, incurable illnesses, insurmountable financial odds, broken family relationships, or unbearable consequences of our own actions. These are not tangled up shoe laces, but mangled up lives. The fact is, live long enough, and you will have moments where you will undeniably learn you are not as independent as you think you are. You can’t handle this alone. In these moments, you can choose to deny these facts and stand stubbornly in the face of life; or you can simply accept it. It’s in this acceptance that we become who Christ is longing for us to become, knotted shoe strings and all.

In John 15, Jesus gives an analogy of a Vineyard to show us just how futile our attempts at independence really are. He simplifies things to illustrate our roles in the process of life.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing!.” (John 15:4-5 ESV, emphasis added)

This is a theme we see through scripture. When Moses was instructed to go face Pharaoh, God told him in Exodus 3:12 that he wouldn’t be going alone, but God “will be with you.” This is the same encouragement that Jesus left his followers with in Matthew 28 before he departed for Heaven. Even though he left them, he didn’t leave them to do life alone.

My youngest daughter is just learning to ride her bike without my assistance. The other evening we took our bikes to a park. As she rode along, any time I reached out to keep her on the path or from tipping over, she would adamantly say, “No, I got it dad!” As an emotional father, it almost brought me to tears. It was just another situation where my daughters had outgrown the need for me. Of course, this feeling didn’t last long, because she quickly veered off the path and crash landed into a shrub. Like any good father I picked her up and got her back on track. I bet you can guess the first thing that came out of her mouth once she got going again with me guiding her, “No, I got it dad!” And so the cycle continued, as it does with us in life.

Our insistence on independence flies directly into the face of the gospel. The sooner we can learn this, the sooner our lives will be transformed in a way we could never imagine. God is our loving father, longing to keep us on the path. He does not do this because he wants to keep us enslaved to himself, He does it because we don’t see the path from beginning to end. This is why Proverbs instructs us to:

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do… he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all…” (Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message)

Let us let go of the reigns of independence and embrace our dependence on Christ, and never feel too grown up to ask for help unlacing you’re knotted up shoestrings. We were never made to do it alone.

Grace and Peace to You.