By Joel Bates
I love my boots! I found them over ten years ago at a closeout sale, what had been an outrageously high price now reduced to almost affordable. Though they were still slightly over my gear budget, I grimaced a little and forked over the cash, putting my stock in their Gore-Tex lining, leather uppers, and mountaineering soles. Their first real test came when the remnants of Hurricane Fay hit the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, mercilessly dumping nine inches of rain in one day on our expedition group. Through it all, my boots kept my feet dry! Later while evacuating a participant from the trail, I remember pausing at a creek crossing wondering if my boots were high enough to prevent water from getting in, and a mental check once on the other side confirmed my hope, forging an even deeper bond between my bombproof footwear and me. Participants wanted to follow their compass up a craggy hill of scree. No problem—thorns and brambles fell off my trusty hikers like puny arrows glancing off a warrior’s shield. Even on the coldest of days, my toes nestled snuggly in their warm, comfy shelters. On nearly every significant trip I can recall, I was hiking behind packs of participants up hills, though rain, and long into the night, wearing those boots with each step.
As they were aging, I thought it best to replace them, but every new boot I bought would either fall apart or leak in the rain, and I would end up calling the logistics crew to bring me my “old reliables.” They just couldn’t be beaten…until one fateful day last year. I was on an expedition, and it wasn’t even raining, but the meadow we were walking through was thick with morning dew. My boots were wet on the outside, but I thought little about it. As I hiked, I felt that moist sensation your feet get when water is seeping in ever so slightly. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t consider that it could be the boots. “Probably just my feet sweating,” I told myself. At lunch break when the soggy feeling in my socks continued, I took a look under the hood. Nothing could have prepare me for the horror I beheld. It was a good thing I was sitting down because when I doffed my boots, the insole revealed the unmistakable evidence of a leak! My socks were damp, but my spirit was flooded with grief. Okay…so maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I was pretty bummed.
My “old reliables” had served me well, and maybe it was time to retire them from great expedition mountaineers to mere work boots. As I grieved my loss, a more serious thought hit me. I’ll be turning 41 this year, and with the coming of age has come the realization that my role as a wilderness expedition guide will have an ending point. I considered that maybe it was time to retire me to a different role. “This work is for younger men,” I mused. “Maybe it’s time to hang up the boots for good,” I thought. As I considered this, I began to keep my ears open to God’s voice and my eyes searching for His direction. I began testing my calling by making it a priority to have others lead expeditions. I weighed my motives to see if I was actually at peace with being replaced and found them mixed on most occasions, yet growing more peaceful and hopeful. As I monitored this dilemma, I saw the necessity grow for me to lead in the field on some occasions and wane in others. I hadn’t bought a new pair of boots during this time because I wanted to be sure that the Lord still wanted me in this capacity. However, by last February, I knew that the coming season’s expedition calendar would require my involvement, so I started looking for some new boots.
At first, I thought about just going with a thrifty pair that would last me through the season. Then I thought maybe I could find a deal on some good used boots. But in the end, I pondered my future and the unknowns of God’s will and decided to just get the best boots I could afford to enable me to do the best job I can. During this time, I was reading though the book of Hebrews and stopped short in chapter 10, where the writer tells us in verse 9 that Jesus’ attitude was “Here I am. I have come to do your will.” The writer goes on to tell us that it was with this attitude that Jesus became the perfect sacrifice “once for all.” I marveled at Christ’s tremendous attitude; though He was God, He did not decide to call it quits until the plan was complete.
Too often, we look at ourselves and assess our own limitations, making decisions about our purpose and calling based on what our eyes can see, what our society screams, and the fears that compromise our comfort. But we don’t always get to decide when to hang up the boots! In fact, I would submit that instead of ever hanging up the boots, so-to-speak, we should adopt an attitude like Christ that is comparable to always having a pair of good boots on hand so we, like Him, can say to the Father with arms outstretched, “Here am I. Send me.”
Get your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Be the messenger of the Lord with beautiful feet who brings good news. Consider Abraham, who after becoming the age where most people hang up their boots, became the father of nations and Moses, who was 80 years old when he laced up his hiking boots to lead the children of Israel out of Pharaoh’s land. We can’t leave out the fierce Caleb, who at age 85 said, “Give me the hill-country the Lord promised me, and I will drive out the enemies.”
Whether you’re struggling to find your direction, thriving within your calling, or feeling like you’ve done your part and are entitled to leave it up to others, remember to say to the Lord, “I am willing to be used.” And always, always have a good pair of boots ready.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.