I remember a poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” that my parents had framed on their wall when I was a child. The poem talked about how when a person looked back on their life, they saw two sets of footprints (theirs and God’s), but at the very hardest times of life, there was just one set of footprints. And in the end that one set was God’s footprints and he was carrying the person during those times.
As a child, I would stare at the footprints pressed into the wet sand and the waves splashing a few feet away beneath a sunset sky, and at the time, I didn’t quite understand when I would need God to carry me. Fast-forward a few decades later and I certainly understand the poem—remembering times of grief when I physically felt my heart ache because I couldn’t fathom my life without a person, or the times when I cried out to God, not understanding why things had to go a certain way, far outside of what I had desired.
So the idea of God carrying me through hard times is one that I can vouch for. And as I share with teens and others who are going through hard times, the fact that I don’t have to carry it all on my own is actually a beautiful freedom that has helped me to hold onto things in life a little looser.
But the past few years have given me another understanding of that sunset picture, and one that has proven to be harder. If we are keeping with the image of footprints, and people walking along the way, I think of the road to Emmaus. In this story in the book of Luke 24:13-35, Jesus has died and his disciples are all mourning the loss of the one who they thought was going to lead the way. They are doubting and questioning all that had happened, and two are journeying down the road to the city of Emmaus when a third traveler joins them. They tell him about their sorrow and all that has happened and this traveler begins to talk about the Scripture and to show that all the terrible things that have happened to Jesus had to happen. Ultimately, after the “breaking of the bread” with them, their eyes are opened and they realize they have been with the resurrected Jesus.
We know—if only intellectually at times and not in the heart—that Jesus is with us in our struggles, but what if beyond that, we are to walk and carry those around us in their struggles? What if we are to walk, carrying the burdens of others, physically, mentally and spiritually? Carrying these burdens can be hard, just as Jesus must have mourned with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, understanding that they didn’t see the full picture of all that was about to happen and the hope that would come. And sometimes your heart will break, knowing that while you are helping to carry those struggles, you can’t fully take them away. But it is just in that crushing experience of the soul that we join Jesus in his sufferings and the “kiss of Jesus,” as Saint Teresa of Calcutta said.
We can’t go into this venture thinking that we are the hero of the story, coming to save the day. The truth of the matter is that only God can comfort hearts and bring healing. He graciously chooses to use our hands and feet and mouths, but only in being obedient to Him can we share that comfort. We can come to the table of the Eucharist, in the breaking of the bread, and have our eyes opened to who Jesus is and where the hurting hearts are around us. We have to walk softly, listening to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit, knowing when to speak and when to just sit in support. When to bring along an extra coffee for someone who may not even know they need it, or when we need to cry out to God in prayer for the hurting hearts around us.
We may not always do it perfectly, and in the end, our hearts may break when we love and have to lose. But the thought that Jesus might want me—small, imperfect me—to be his feet and help someone to make it on their journey is pretty humbling. In a time when so many are experiencing sorrow, continued isolation and crushed spirits, may God help us all walk with Him and for Him in the unexpected and wonderful ways He has prepared, if we would only dare to love as He does.
Kasey Carty Jordan is a former missionary to China and currently serves in youth ministry with her husband Kurt at their Catholic parish. She is also the Executive Director of Camp to Belong-Georgia, a nonprofit that serves siblings separated in foster care. The Jordans reside in Monticello with their seven children.