“‘Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?'” -Matt. 6:28-30
This verse ran through my head as I pawed through the pile of clean clothes on the floor, trying to figure out which to throw into the suitcase. At least I think they were clean clothes. O me of little faith.
I was flying to Michigan to see my parents and celebrate their birthdays. My mom was excited for the party. My dad….not as much. We were going to keep it low-key, a compromise to try to make everyone happy.
I kept pawing through the clothes, thinking of my parents, and remembered a story my mom told me about her childhood.
She’d been a young child during the Depression. There were six children in her family, and as the youngest of the three girls she wore hand-me-downs constantly. She remembers that she did not have a new coat until she went to college. She was also a jock— scandalous for a girl in the 1930s, decades before Title IX. As such she wore out her already-used clothing with distressing speed and regularity.
One Sunday morning she went to her mother and admitted that she had no shoes to wear, she’d worn holes through her only Sunday shoes. My grandmother was less than sympathetic; she wanted my mother to give up her athletic ways and be more like her sisters. “You’ll never get a husband that way” was a constant refrain my mother would hear in her teens. But on this Sunday my grandma simply told her that she couldn’t very well go to Mass without shoes, so she would have to miss.
“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
Mom was devastated. She had learned from the beginning of Catholic school that it is a serious sin to miss Sunday Mass for any but the most grave reasons, and having worn out your own shoes probably did not qualify. She was sitting outside on the curb crying when my grandfather came home.
When she explained to him why she was so upset, he told her to go inside and put on her white lacy socks from her First Communion. He then put her on the handlebars of his bike and pedaled her down to the church. When she objected again because she was only wearing socks, he told her, “You go in there and hold your head high. Whatever you do, don’t look down as you go up to receive Communion. If you don’t look at your feet, no one else will notice either.”The first time my mom told me this story, I was horrified that anyone would object to a shoeless child. Surely she was not the only child during the Depression who did not have shoes for her feet but still had a desire for the Lord. If we were to see an obviously poor and shoeless child in Mass today I find it hard to believe that anyone would ask them to leave, or make a fuss. Being poor, having no shoes, is not a sin.
“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” -Matt. 6:24
But how often do we draw attention to our lack? How often do we look down, at our sin, at our lack of grace, at our insufficiency, instead of straight ahead at the Lord? Because let’s face it, even if money were no object, what shoes would be worthy of God? What could we possibly devise to put on our feet, given the resources of the entire world, that could ever be enough? Nothing. Absolutely nothing would be worthy. Perhaps this is why God told Moses to remove his sandals when approaching holy ground.
I am not suggesting that we pretend our sins don’t exist. As my mom felt her sock feet slide on the cold stone floor, she was well aware that she was uncovered, insufficient, lacking. But we can focus on the lack, or on the Lord. Look down and worry, or straight ahead and trust. Serve God, or serve mammon. Our insufficiency does not need to keep us from Christ; on the contrary, it is why we need to show up at all.
I threw some clothes in the suitcase. The party went off with few hitches. Most of my brothers were there. We ate, we sang, there was some odd impromptu organ playing. Pictures were taken. I’m pretty sure I looked like a wild-freaking-flower of the field, but I’m not sure. I was busy trying not to look down.