It’s a Rainbow™ sandals kind of day.
When I turned 30, I made a vow that I would never wear my Rainbows to work. It was a while after a conversation with someone about how the shorts and tank tops that looked like I was ready to go to the beach, that were the perfect uniform for working in youth ministries, wouldn’t cut it anymore now that I was working with adults. And so in a valiant effort to be a grown up, I swore off wearing my Rainbows to work.
By the way, if you don’t live in Southern California, you might not know yet that Rainbow sandals are the most perfect pair of flip flops you can wear. And if you live in Orange County, or you’ve ever come to visit me in Orange County, you know that the Rainbow Factory Outlet in San Clemente is a magical place where the most comfortable leather flip flops in every style and color imaginable are available for your browsing and purchasing pleasure. I’ve hiked in Rainbows. I’ve worn them all day and walked miles without ever having a problem. I’ve found putting them on after a long day of wearing my grown up shoes is one of the greatest simple pleasures in life. And days like today, when I just don’t quite want to put on my grown up shoes, I’ll still wear my Rainbows to the office.
Last night I wanted to go shopping for a new pair of shoes. These new shoes were going to be purple, and probably wedges, with something fun and strappy, and going to match this great new dress I bought recently. They were going to be the kind of shoes I would get lots of compliments on, and that would give me a little extra bounce in my step when I wore them.
But last night I was also exhausted. It was the kind of day where I got home from work and fell on the couch and couldn’t move or think or do anything even remotely like being a human for at least half an hour. I was waiting for my roommate to get home and we were going to go shopping together. Less because we really needed to go shopping and more because we wanted to do something other than spend another night sitting around at home. And so I thought this would be a great time to go look for those perfect purple grown-up knock-em-dead shoes I’d been wanting.
But as I laid there on the couch, feeling exhausted, there was this gentle nudging in the back of my mind that prompted me to ask if new shoes would actually make my day, my life, my current situation any better.
Sometimes, when I am not dating anyone, I think I am not dating anyone because I don’t have the cutest pair of shoes. Because the girl I know who always has the cutest shoes seems to always be dating someone. And there’s a party this weekend, and if I have a great pair of shoes then maybe somehow this will be an even greater party. And there’s a wedding coming up at the end of the month, and if I have a knock-em-dead pair of shoes to wear at the wedding, maybe the wedding will be the kind of wedding that I’ll tell stories about to my grandkids someday.
It’s the kind of thinking that when I say it out loud, or write it out, is embarrassingly ridiculous. But it’s also the kind of thinking that goes on underneath the surface all too often.
We feel dissatisfied with something in life, and somehow we attach our hope or where we look for happiness to something silly. Like a new pair of shoes. And we look forward to finding the perfect pair of strappy-but-also-comfortable, not-too-pink-but-just-that-perfect-shade-of-violet, and not-too-tall-but-still-tall-enough-to-stand-out pair of wedges.
The problem, though, is that if I’m feeling dissatisfied, new shoes won’t really bring any substantial satisfaction into my life. And perhaps one of the very reasons I find myself dissatisfied is because I’m still the kind of person who thinks that new shoes will make me happier, or make my life better in some way.
I can say that I know new shoes won’t make me happy. I can even think I know better. I’ve got all sorts of Bible answers and raised-in-church things that I’ve memorized I can bring up to show how much I know better. But at the end of the day, deep down, there’s a part of me that still deeply believes that buying shiny new things will make me happy, and make me feel better.
And I’m so thankful that God, in His infinite grace, wisdom, and patience with my absurd silliness about things like wanting new shoes, helped me start thinking just a little bit differently last night. It’s taken years, but over time I’ve started catching myself before, while still in the thinking process, about how new shoes don’t actually provide what I’m looking for. And in His goodness and desire for me to find what really does make my life better, God is starting to show me more and more the kinds of things in life that do give deeper meaning and satisfaction to my life.
Last night, as my roommate and I decided what we wanted to do, we realized that if we hurried we could catch the sunset at the beach. And not just any beach, but my roommate’s favorite beach that somehow I had never been to. And if we really hurried, we could pick up some In-N-Out on the way and eat dinner as we sat on the beach watching the sunset.
And so last night, as we drove down to Laguna Beach to catch the sunset at the Montage, stopping at the In-N-Out drive thru to get fries with special sauce, we talked about life and ministry and it was one of those moments where God used my roommate, the sunset, the conversation, and the beautiful location to meet me where I was at in life and bring a deeper measure of peace to my restless and wandering heart.
For a lot of reasons, life has been really full lately. I love my job. I find so much fulfillment in what I’m doing right now with my role at church. I am so thankful for the friendships and relationships and people that I am privileged to walk through life with. And yet in the midst of that, it is a season that feels like it is taking everything I have to give, and it’s still not enough. There’s always another project. Another deadline. Another crisis. Another event. Another conversation. Another email or text message. Another demand on my time, or resources, or energy. Life has become more and more full of the to-do’s, and I’m taking less and less time to do things like watch sunsets and dip fries in special sauce.
As we talked, we sat on a bench positioned perfectly on top of a cliff to give us a breathtaking view of the sun sinking down below Catalina island, framed by palm tree silhouettes on a backdrop of pink and orange and golden wispy clouds, with waves splashing in the cove below.
As we drove back through the canyon, stars coming out along the stretch of Highway 133 where light pollution is kept at bay by the rolling hills, I realized how thankful I was for sunsets and meaningful conversations and friendships with people like my roommate, and how moments like those bring a peace and satisfaction so much more so than any new pair of shoes ever could.
Life has been busy. I’ve been in to-do list mode, and go-mode, and productivity mode. It’s a try-and-cross-things-off-the-list-only-to-add-two-more kind of time for me right now. And when life gets that way, it’s easy to think that life is all about appearances and what I can get done. It’s when I start to think that a great new pair of shoes, and looking and acting a certain way, will get me far in life.
And I’m so thankful that God interrupted my plans last night. I needed to slow down. I needed to be reminded that all these things I was doing were simply a means, and not the end. Ministry and to-do lists are sometimes all that I see on my horizon, and it’s in those moments when my horizon is nothing but to-do lists and stressful problems that things like buying a new pair of shoes seems like a good way to get away from my problems for just a little bit and somehow make things better. It’s in those moments when I forget that all these things I do that keep me busy are a means to an end, and not actually what life is really about.
Seeing life change happen, seeing God break through, seeing people more deeply understand how loved they are by God—these are the things that matter. I want a horizon filled with meaningful conversations, and moments to talk with the people I love and trust about what God is doing in our lives, where we’re struggling, and how God is meeting us in those places of hardship. I want a horizon filled with sunsets and slowing down and celebrating the beautiful and simple things in life. I want a horizon filled with the hope of a God who took on flesh and intervened in human history, and who today continues to interrupt our self-focused lives and give us a picture of how much greater of a life He has invited us to be a part of.
And so today at work, as I sit at my desk in my not-so-grown-up shoes, I’m going to keep working on my to-do list. But today feels different than yesterday. Today feels more hopeful. My to-do list is not as stressful, but rather a little bit more exciting because I see how all these things are a part of something bigger God is up to.