When our son was 2 years old, he had neither crawled nor walked unassisted.
Physical therapists instructed us to get him a padded skateboard, so that as he scooted around, he would build up muscles he would need for a lifetime in a wheelchair.
God -- and our son -- clearly had other ideas. Unmindful of such labels as “cerebral palsy” and “autism,” he refused to crawl, instead using furniture to get around, always with a victorious "look-at-me" smile.
Midway through his third year, we started a game, having him stumble from mom to dad to brother, a few giddy steps at a time, accompanied by mock "dinosaur roars." It took forever to get from three shaky steps to four.
One day, we decided to have him hold a washcloth -- still tethered to us at the other end -- to give him the feel of walking with a little less support.
It wasn't long before we were shocked to see him walking down the hallway, washcloth in a death grip, independent yet dependent.
By his third birthday, our son was walking on his own, the padded skateboard a dusty nightmare in the corner of our garage, a wheelchair no longer in his future.
The incident came back to me when I was reading John 5:8-10 --
Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat."
Like our son, the paralytic hadn't just walked. He had picked up his mat -- his crutch if you will. Immediately, instead of seeing a miracle, Pharisees and physical therapists imposed their own reality. You cannot carry your mat. You must crawl before you walk.
People talk a lot about Christianity in terms of our walks or walking closer to God.
When we don’t know God at all, any crutch will do. We stumble from job to spouse; from hobby to addiction, never charting a straight path.
Once we begin to know God and study His word, we walk with one steadying hand on the Lord. But, like our son, we mistakenly think of God as an external support -- like the washrag we grip, white knuckled, when we think we will fall.
In truth, we need to learn that He dwells in our hearts and in the hearts of other Christians. In community, we can lean on those who are stronger as we build our faith.
When our son was 9, my wife felt called to bring him into a remote homeless camp. He needed her help to navigate fallen trees and stumps, roots and poison ivy -- like the pitfalls that can cause new Christians to stumble.
At the camp, God's power shone through the boy. A Hispanic man, reeling with drink, saw in him a reflection of his own abandoned son and asked to hold him. In that embrace, the man found support to resume his own walk with God. He asked Jesus to come into his life, returned to his family and quit drinking.
Our son is now 11 and his walk continues to mature. This week, unassisted, he walked inside a circle of homeless men, pausing before each, sitting on their laps, wordlessly touching their faces and bringing light to their eyes.
Like my son, we have to keep working on our walks. It was never about getting from Point A to Point B. It's not a matter of being independent. Walking alone with God isn't enough.
Before we can "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" without fearing evil, our walks must be firmly rooted in love. As 1 John 1:7 says, "... if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another."
As Isaiah prophesied, the once dark path, obstructed with roots and stumps, will look like a highway:
"It will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
"No lion will be there,
nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there."
-- Isaiah 35:8-10
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