When I was growing up — Missouri, 1980s — half the kids I knew had a framed copy of "Footprints in the Sand" somewhere in their house. Usually hanging in the living room.
That poem was as meaningful to these families as Rudyard Kipling's "If" was to ours. (My mom gave me a poster-sized copy of "If" right before I entered adolescence. I must have read it 500 times.)
The point is, although it wasn't in my own home, "Footprints in the Sand" was a part of my childhood. I have vivid memories of staring into the ubiquitous pictures of sandy beaches and thinking what a comforting, beautiful sentiment that was. Or maybe it was just the thought of a beach that I found so comforting and beautiful. (This was Missouri, after all.) I assume most of you have read it, but here it is:
Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “ You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
This notion of always having someone with us to keep us going is among the most common reasons people desire religious faith. It's also, I've discovered, a reason that secular parents who were raised in religious households sometimes feel a sense guilt for not introducing their kids to this potentially friendly presence in their lives.
But telling a child that God is in the room with them is not nearly as compelling as it sounds. Kids' minds are far more active than ours, their imaginations are rich and vibrant. If they want or need company, they have no trouble finding it. They hug their stuffed animals. They invent imaginary friends. They cling to their blankets. They talk to themselves.
I know I'm getting into "blasphemous" territory here, but kindly bear with me... Whether or not kids think there's a God above doesn't change the fact that they must solve their own problems here on Earth. In my personal experience, whether we talk things through with God or with Paddington Bear has absolutely no influence on the outcome.
As I've said before, my 7-year-old is very much on the fence about God. She believes sometimes and not other times — and that's fine by me. But she said something recently that inspired this post and made certain that, whatever she ends up believing, she likely won't ever feel the need for "Footprints in the Sand."
"I'll never be lonely," she told me, "because I'll always have myself."
Now THAT I'd hang in the living room.