This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m going to wake up, pray and read in Proverbs with “parenting eyes.” Then I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind. This could be brilliant or an epic failure. But that’s the plan. Today, I read Proverbs 6:1-15.
The book/movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a tale of a 9-year-old boy named Oskar who lost his father in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/01. Oskar is on a wild-goose chase of sorts to gain some connection to his dad. Naturally, the journey has ups and downs and I won’t spoil it for you. The reason I bring it up is that during some of the downs, the author Jonathan Safran Foer’s character compares sadness to walking in “heavy boots.” One example:
In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York is in heavy boots.
We’ve all had the heavy boots, haven’t we?
Maybe it was the loss of a job. Maybe it was the death of someone close to us. Maybe we didn’t make the team. Maybe the significant other left us. Maybe we didn’t get into the college we wanted. Maybe hard decisions about the pet we loved. Maybe the friendship we appreciated was splintered. Maybe the team lost in Game 6 of the World Series after being one strike away from winning TWICE. The Heavy Boots come in all sorts of styles and sizes, no?
I had my own pair of heavy boots nearly a year ago. I would be leaving a church family I’d done life with for over 15 years…and folks, for the uninitiated, that’s about 5x longer than most pastors stay in one place. It was the most loving thing I could do and I was certainly treated well in the process. They loved me and I loved them. I’d done so much life with that group of people…so why the “heavy boots?”
Well, for 25 years, my identity had been one thing: Youth pastor. Now that was kind of nebulous because I didn’t leave for another gig. There was excitement in thinking through what else God might be doing with my life…but when you’ve always been one thing, well, the overwhelming possibilities were kind of paralyzing. The people we’d done life with kept doing life and we weren’t a part of it anymore, really. There was a lot of unrealized fatigue. There was no routine to stay in. There was no rock solid schedule of meetings or teaching times or studies or events that had to be adhered to. There was the arduous process of trying to become part of another congregation of believers who already had their own warps and woofs, so while you were in the building and the people were nice, they weren’t “yours.” At least not yet.
Figurative heavy boots.
So heavy they became harder to swing over the edge of the bed at times…even sunlight has a much softer touch in waking you up rather than the sledgehammer of an alarm clock. It would’ve been so easy to stay in bed a lot longer. To just put on the flannel pants and stay in them all day. To just veg out to awful daytime television on the couch. To avoid shaving and such. It wouldn’t take long before I could turn into Howard Hughes with Kleenex boxes for shoes with Sam’s-sized hand-sanitizer everywhere.
But I’d gotten some good advice: Get up and keep your routines.
So, I did. Still beat the sunrise to get the daily miracle of the newspaper. Took the dogs out for their morning constitutional. Time in the Word, prayer, journaling. Exercise. Shower/shave/get dressed. Spend a couple of hours on the job search. Eat well. A few honey-do’s here and there. Fix dinner. Spend good time with the family. Oh, and drink plenty of water (I’m not sure exactly why all the books say to do that, but they do, and I did, and it seems to do whatever it is that it’s supposed to do). Some days, I didn’t FEEL like it. I FELT like going all Howard Hughes and doing nothing.
Just like my blue-collar steel-worker dad put on his literal heavy boots every day.
Up before the sun to meet the carpool to the plant. Put on the hard hat. The safety glasses. The steel-toed heavy boots. His team would take the casts of metal and shape them for whatever needs the customer had. At first, it was shift-work…and every two weeks there’d be a double shift while they rotated. Eventually, he got enough seniority to stay on the main day shift. I can’t imagine he loved the work. But there were trades he liked. He could hunt and fish on the weekends. There was plenty of time to coach or attend the little league stuff I was into. We were able to move to the suburbs for better schools and what-not. But every day, he put on those heavy boots.
And, somehow, those traits were passed on to me by both my parents.
Since all my buddies had motorcycles (which my mom had long-since outlawed for me) and snapped up the paper routes, I took to mowing lawns for cash in my neighborhood and did that until I got my first job at the country club near my neighborhood working on the greens-crew…which consisted of mowing mostly. Any and all grunt work to get the course ready had to be completed before the golfers teed off at 8am or so, and we’d be able to get it done and get to school on time so we started at 5:45am to rake the traps and set the tee boxes and empty the trash and make sure the holes had flags and even watered the greens after hours in the summer.
In school, I missed four days combined in four years…and those were because I was in traction with a broken leg.
I traded in my golf-course job for a job tearing tickets at the local movie theater. I tore tickets. Worked the concession stand. Eventually they trained me to run projectors and such (even had to join a union to do that). Cleaned the lobby and each theater after the movies started and ended. Worked midnight movies…even getting to be the host of the Rocky Horror Picture Show here and there. Lots of late nights, weekends and holidays.
But I got these traits from my parents. I knew my dad’s job was hot and physical and demanding and had strange shift hours (mostly while I was young) and I knew he got up and went early in the morning to meet his carpool. After he died, my mom went back to work teaching school…and accumulated so many sick days over the years that she could retire but still get paid for one full school year before the retirement benefits kicked in. She even went back to school at nights to finish her Master’s degree after a full day of work for a couple of years…with two kids aged 14 & 9. Worked until 3:30pm, came home, touched base, and back to school at 6pm until 9pm. For two years.
And I can’t imagine that either one of them FELT like doing those things all the time. But they did them.
Which is what I get when I read Proverbs 6: 4–15.
There’s a real tendency we have to avoid heavy boots, the literal kind or the figurative kind.
Laziness is a trap. It puts us under the control of other forces. We should watch the ants and how they build and get things done (which in Texas, you don’t have to go far to see this illustration in action–just mow one day and see the fully-formed anthill the next). They prepare all the time. They know that the lean times are coming and getting ready for winter is part of their plan for survival. Grabbing a quick nap can lead to complete ruin if done at the wrong time…
…think of a soldier on a late night watch of their platoon if they pause to “rest their eyes”…
…and laziness gives time to plot all sorts of shortcuts and unethical ways to get around the system. And to cause dissension and controversy and strife all because you really don’t have anything better to do.
Wisdom is really just knowing what time it is. And, yes, sometimes I’ve come home to the ladies in my home still in their flannel pants and watching “Gilmore Girls” marathons and eating ice cream because they just needed a “lazy day.” My wife had a knack for knowing when the family had been red-lining and needed to give the engines a rest. Sometimes it was time to “sharpen the saw” or whatever metaphor you want to use for taking a break.
But sometimes we need to teach our kids the value of literal heavy boots. We do this by putting them on every day whether we feel like it or not. They notice. Just like I did. Just like you did.
And, even when they’re wearing the figurative ones, help them to pick them up and put them down even though they don’t FEEL like practicing their instrument, or working that part-time job, or doing their chores or homework…because sometimes a little rest or a little slumber and a little folding of the hands can lead them into various traps and snares or dark plans…
…that will make them wear figurative heavy boots for a lot longer than they need to or want to.