I heard a story about a fisherman who, while performing a task on the lobster boat on which he worked, managed to fall off into the ocean. It was early in the morning and all the other crew members were asleep, plus the boat’s motor was on which would have muted any cries for help coming from a poor soul in a rumbling sea.
The man watched helplessly as the boat moved farther and farther away from him, until it was out of his sight. There he was, in the middle of the ocean, by himself. There was no one to whom to call. There were no other boats. There was just him, the feisty and restless ocean…and his boots.
He hadn’t had time to think about ditching the boots; his only thought was to stay alive. But he realized something as he fought for his life; every time he laid back on the surface of the ocean his feet, with boots still on, would rise to the surface. These heavy boots were keeping him alive.
He decided to take the boots off and use them as floats, putting a boot under each armpit, and those boots kept him above water for 12 hours, when he was finally rescued.
Sometimes the tools we need to keep us over the seas that come in all our lives are the things we would assume have a far more lofty function. The thought of heavy boots in deep water being the one tool we need to keep us alive is ludicrous, and yet, those “heavy things” in our lives, our fishing boots, so to speak, have a function.
Boots have a variety of functions. They keep us dry, they protect our feet and legs from the elements, and some boots keep us from slipping and falling. We wouldn’t think of going into certain weather conditions or even into certain environments without our boots. We need to be protected. We need to stay dry.
In life, we need to be protected as well. We need our spirits not to be doused so completely by the waters of life that we sink. We need something to protect us when we fall from our places of comfort and safety, fall into waters of life that are angry and turbulent and unrelenting in their effort to pull us under. God gives us boots that we don’t appreciate. We take the protective hand and the spirits God infuses with God’s own presence, for granted. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us is not for holy show; the presence of the Holy Spirit within us is functional and one of its functions is to keep us alive, spiritually and emotionally, when we fall overboard.
What do these divine boots look like? Where are they? These boots look different for all of us, yet they are the same in their function. Our boots are on and in our spirits; they are the things we might call determination, courage, tenacity, love and joy. All of our boots are ours similar to but not identical to the boots of others, because we have all come from different places. Our life experiences help determine what our boots are and what they look like.
In the midst of thrashing for life when we have fallen overboard, it is our boots, and our ability to grab ahold of them, which keep us alive, knowing for a fact that trouble is temporary. Our boots keeping us afloat is what gives us the ability to sing, “How I Got Over!” Our boots, shaped to our spirits by God, are always within us, ready to keep us over the waves of the angry seas which desire to pull us down.
The boots will not let the seas of our lives have their way.
When this man was finally rescued 12 hours after falling into the sea, he was sunburned, tired, cold and dehydrated…but he was alive. When the Coast Guard helicopter came for him, he got into that rescue basket and was hoisted upward …and perhaps those doing the rescue wondered why he wouldn’t leave the boots behind. He couldn’t, because they were what had surprised him with their power. Something so small, so taken for granted, had had the power to keep him alive.
He has those boots to this day.
We, too, have boots within us which we should identify and thank God for. Had it not been for the boots God gives us all, many of us would have drowned long ago. God’s boots within us has brought us to this day, and God’s boots within us will be there the next time we find ourselves in the middle of a restless and angry sea.
Amen and amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith –Writer, author, musician, pastor, preacher and social justice advocate. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and author of “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives,” which won the 2009 National Best Books Award. Follow Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith on Twitter:www.twitter.com/cassad