I was a new wife and mom, still feeling the sting of the uglier turns in my own story of grace, desperate to connect with other mom's in my church. I sat at a 16 dollar breakfast buffet I couldn't afford and listened as they talked about pool cleanings and dealer warranties and other things that didn't mean much to me and my young one-income family.
The conversation turned to homelessness, and together the table of otherwise godly women spoke harshly of homeless people in our own town, of friends and neighbours who were struggling with poverty, mental health issues, broken relationships and substance abuse. Why can't they just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and act right, like so-and-so did? And why should they get free help when everyone else had to earn their way. I cringed inside, and then I cried.
I explained through tears that I've been the sin scarred addict making bad choice after bad choice. Their harsh words were directed at me.
I've learned a lot since that day at the overpriced buffet. I've learned that I must speak with grace to the graceless or else I quickly become a hypocrite. I've learned that sometimes people speak from their culture and not their hearts. I've learned not to cry at fancy restaurants, for the most part. And I've learned to forgive. But I still cringe when I hear the word "bootstraps."
Our culture values independence, self sufficiency. Any need for people, community, help is seen as weakness.
But we are a God-sufficient people. And he made us to need each other. The truth is, not one of us has fixed ourselves. None of us have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.
The self-made man is a lie. You and I? We had people who spoke life giving words of love and encouragement into us. Or maybe we had people who picked us up when we fell down, set boundaries, challenged us, invited us in, prayed for us. We are all broken, sin-scarred people. The fact that our own struggles and hurts and choices haven't left us on the sidewalk in desperate need is the grace of God in our lives, not our own doing.
We are a people of grace. Scandalous, unfathomable grace. We have received something infinitely better than what we deserve. And we don't receive things so abundantly from the hand of God so that we can hoard them up. We receive so that we can give away. That includes grace.
We are the bootstraps. If our brothers and sisters in this world are to lift themselves up out of poverty or despair or homelessness or addiction or any difficulty by their bootstraps, then you and I need to be the bootstraps. The something sturdy to hold on to, the friend who forgives, the warm place to turn, the physical help, the emotional support, the 3 am phone call and the spare change in the bucket. Let us be the bootstraps.
Not because we have it all together. Not because we have it all figured out. But because there are people who have been, and still are, that support in our own lives. Because we had bootstraps when we needed them most.
Because ultimately there is no "us" and "them", just people experiencing poverty in different areas of their life in this broken world. We are all in need.
And because it is in a community of open need that we find Christ moving among us.
Friends, this is what we need to know about bootstraps: it is impossible to stand up holding onto the loops on the backs of your boots. But in community, together, we do the impossible everyday. When we stand together with one another we create the space where miracles happen and lives are changed. We become the bootstraps.
Let's lift one another up.