When children are small and it’s time to leave the house, parents ask them to put on their shoes. For most parents I know, this request is made approximately 30 minutes and 63 times before any actual leaving occurs, and usually ends with someone in tears. Once shoes and feet have finally met, parents either plop their offspring in their lap, or kneel down in front of them to tie their tiny shoes.
When those children enter preschool, their constant shoe-related refrain is, “Mama, will you help me?” and thousands of times a year, Mama helps.
Now imagine for a moment, that this same child is now 16 years old and still saying, “Mama, will you help me tie my shoes?” Unless there are significant extenuating circumstances, one would agree, there’s a problem here. If an able-bodied 16 year old is still asking for help tying shoes, something has gone badly amiss.
At some point in a child’s life, Mom or Dad sits the child down and teaches him or her how to tie shoes. Sometimes it takes a few days, sometimes it takes a few weeks, but eventually, children learn how to tie their own shoes, and while it may still take 30 minutes and 63 asks to get them to do it before leaving the house, there comes a day when a parent no longer needs to take a knee before leaving the house.
I have no idea what made me think of this, but as I mulled this all over, I realized something: At some point in my spiritual growing up, I need to learn how to tie my own shoes.
I see this in prayer journals where, for most of my life, my prayers have been “Father, help me ____”. Help me be better with my money. Help me be more humble. Help me control my tongue. And while God is happy to answer those prayers, I have to wonder if there comes a time when He, like our earthly parents decides it’s time to stop helping, and time to start teaching.
In asking God to help me be more patient, what I’m really saying is “give me more patience”. In asking God to help me be diligent in my work, what I’m really saying is, “give me the will to do well”. In asking God to help, what I’m really doing is putting the responsibility for my behavior on God, and that’s not where it’s meant to be.
Throughout Scripture we see instructions to “practice” godliness, holiness, patience, and love, among other things. In other words, these are not attributes we can just expect God to miraculously give us without us having to put in any effort. Rather, they are calls to a higher way of living that we are expected to actively pursue as we grow in our faith. Yes, we do all things through the strength we find in Christ (Philippians 4:13), but again, it’s not His responsibility to make us kinder – it’s our responsibility to practice kindness because He has been kind to us and we want to live like He did.
So back to my prayers for help… As I thought about all of this, I realized that it’s time for me to make a subtle, but important shift in my prayers. Rather than asking God to help me obey, I will ask Him to teach me to obey. “Help me to humble myself” is a good prayer, especially for a newer Christian. But “teach me to humble myself” is an indication we’re ready to grow up and to start taking responsibility for our actions and attitudes.
Asking God to teach us rather than help us means we’re ready to learn how to obey Him at a higher level – not in our own power, but in a way that indicates we’re becoming spiritual adults. Asking God to teach us rather than help us means we’re ready to make a greater commitment to studying His Word, to praying deeper, more fervent prayers, and we’re ready for Him to allow our faith to be stretched in new, scary, exciting ways.
And just like a parent teaching a child to tie her shoes, God takes us in His lap so that we share His perspective, and He gently guides us through the process of learning. He patiently explains things a few times, and He lets us try it on our own, all while He sits with us, encouraging us, and cheering us on.
God longs to see us grow into mature spiritual adults (see Ephesians 4) and like any good parent, He loves to hear us ask Him to teach us new things. And when we do, He is faithful, kind, and gentle. Brothers and sisters, is it time for you to learn how to tie your shoes?
Is there something you’ve been asking God to help you with for a while? How might your character or situation change if you asked Him to teach you instead?