Sneakers and Salvation

Sneakers and Salvation May 21, 2014

Several years ago, I took a trip to Egypt with a group of students at the BYU Jerusalem Center.  We spent several days touring the country, and returned to Cairo from Luxor on a sleeping train that Thursday night.  The accommodations were dirty and bug-infested, and we arrived at the hotel on Friday morning tired, dirty, and road-weary. Since Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, we used it as our Sabbath (just as we celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday while we were in Israel). Because of limited luggage space, we had been instructed not to bring church clothes; we would simply attend church services in our jeans and sneakers. None of us had slept very well the previous night, we hadn’t showered for some time, and many of us were sick, the result of bad food and contaminated water, and too many days on a bus in close proximity.

After breakfast, and before checking into our rooms, we held sacrament meeting in the hotel. Pushing the breakfast tables against the walls, we lined the chairs up in rows in the middle of the room. We sang hymns unaccompanied. Croissants and bottled water on hotel plates and cardboard trays served for the sacrament, with peach-colored tablecloths and a flat bedsheet as the coverings for the sacrament table, blessed and passed by unshaven men wearing jeans and t-shirts. As a woman taught to show respect for Sabbath meetings by dressing appropriately to attend, I felt very much out of place. As the prayers were offered and the sacrament blessed and passed, I knew that I had not had time to prepare my heart for this meeting, and I felt unworthy, embarrassed to come before the Lord in an attitude of worship. I felt sure that our makeshift offering would not be acceptable to a God who requires our all.

That morning, there was none of the cleanliness, order, and beauty that usually sets Sabbath meetings apart from the rest of the week—on the contrary, we were even more dirty, disheveled, and sorry-looking than usual. And yet I do not think I have ever felt the Spirit more strongly throughout a sacrament meeting, as I considered my relationship to my Father in Heaven. I felt so unworthy to be there, so dirty and unprepared. And yet the Spirit bore witness to me that the Lord loved me, and I knew that the meeting I was participating in was simply a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality. None of us is worthy to stand in the presence of God—our weaknesses, sins, foibles, and generally fallen condition make us unworthy of offering Him any good gift. We are all unworthy servants, unclean, unprepared to meet our Savior. When we worship, sometimes our fine apparel and fancy speechmaking mask the reality of our fallen condition, and allow us to forget that we all stand before our King in our jeans and sneakers, with circles under our eyes and dirt under our fingernails, and that, unworthy as we are, He does not send us away. He brings us to Him in love and heals us, for He knows that “they that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

I felt that the Lord accepted our offering that day, and I was filled with love for a God who reaches out to us wherever we are. Though I am not worthy to be where He is, to enter His presence and partake of His love, He sends His Spirit out to beckon me home. He meets me where I am and invites me to ascend higher. Even as undeserving as I am, He loves me, and He hasn’t written me off. Even He, who is perfect, smiles upon my humble, unworthy, imperfect attempts to worship Him.

I think that the gospel was meant for us even—no, especially—when we are unworthy. Simply stated, we do not fully understand the purpose of the gospel until we recognize our own unworthiness. The gospel of Christ is not for the proudly pious. It is not for the self-assured and well-dressed. The gospel is for us when we realize that we are nothing but poor travelers who have the audacity to fall at the throne of God in sneakers and jeans, dusty and rumpled and footsore and weary, but earnestly and humbly desiring to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him, pleading that the Lord might accept our poor offering, that our garments might be made white in the blood of the Lamb of God (Alma 13:11).

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