I have a bad habit of walking out of the house with my shoes untied.
I don’t do this for any aesthetic or political purpose; I’m not trying to make a statement about needing to be liberated from whatever ties us down (though that sounds pretty good). Rather, I am simply too lazy to bend down the six feet required to tie my shoes. I generally get to the task around mid-morning, after more than a few people have seen my laces flopping around in the breeze. People who know me are aware of this aspect of my laziness; they have warned me about my untied shoes once or twice before and have been surprised when I’ve told them “I know.” In general, people will stop pointing out my loose laces after a few of these interactions.
One of my good friends from seminary, however, would warn me every single time he saw me with my shoes untied. For him it was never a casual reminder, either. Untied shoes seemed to be a matter of life and death to him. Even after I told him explicitly about the nature of my shoe-related laziness, he would still drop everything he was doing to say, “Whoa buddy! Your shoes are untied! Be careful!” The funny thing is that this guy is not the most effusive man in the world. He has his moments of melodrama, but for the most part, he is very measured and not inclined to outbursts of any kind, particularly when it comes to other people’s business. Yet, for whatever reason, my friend reserves a special compassion for people whose shoes are untied. His warning is an emblem of a deep love that he has for his fellow human beings, one doesn’t appear in all situations, but is abundantly clear when the circumstances are right.
I think that there are times when we feel overwhelmed by the need for compassion in this world. Everywhere we turn, there seems to someone who is hungry, thirsty, persecuted, or desperate to know love. One possible response to this is to up our hands and say, “There’s no possible way that I could do anything to alleviate all the suffering in this world, so I’ll just try to forget about it.” But as my friend demonstrates, we can let our compassion reveal itself in particular situations. We can try to alleviate the suffering of people we have relationships with; we can devote our energies to dealing with a particular issue. Above all, we can trust that every act of love we perform in this life is a way of building for God’s reign of justice and love.