July 9, 2020

Walking Barefoot

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all’s well,
proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
telling Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Isaiah 52:7, The Message

(This is the second part of a two-part essay. You can read part one here.)

My feet are killing me–and it’s your fault.

I have been planning to write about walking barefoot in our journey with Jesus for some time now. Monday I came to the conclusion that to really do this right I should actually walk barefoot for a while, or at least as close to barefoot as I dared. So I visited my favorite outdoors store to find out what shoes would offer some protection yet simulate walking shoeless. I was told wearing the Vibram Five Fingers (pictured to the right) was practically like walking barefoot, and for just $75 plus tax, a pair could be mine. I bought them.

Now, I am past the place of buying shoes–or any clothes, for that matter–just to look good. I buy shoes for the comfort they afford. For dress shoes I prefer my Johnston and Murphy slip-ons with sheepskin lining. I have a pair of Tony Lama cowboy boots that I can wear all day. (Hey–I live in Oklahoma. I think it is a state law that you  own at least one pair of cowboy boots.) My favorite shoes are TOMS–comfortable and easy to slip on. And for exercise walking, I have a pair of Brooks Beast shoes–very supportive. So these Five Fingers were quite a stretch for me. They looked neither fashionable nor comfortable. But for the sake of the IM community, I pressed on.

After convincing my toes to go into the right toe slots in these “shoes” I set off on my favorite three-mile walk around a park here in Tulsa. Right away I could tell a difference. It really was like walking barefoot. I could feel the blades of grass under my feet. I was not pounding my foot on the ground as I would with my Brooks (they have about an inch of material between the sole of my foot and the ground, thus I have to push harder to feel my foot striking the ground) and I could tell almost immediately this would be better on my back. I felt lighter as I walked, felt as though I could go farther and faster in this manner. All in all, this walking barefoot–or close thereto–was going very well.

At the 1.5 mile marker, the pain started.

I was halfway through the walk, and now I was feeling pain in my heels and in the balls of both feet. I could turn around, but it was the same distance going forward or back, so I pressed on.

At the two mile marker, I regretted not bringing my Brooks shoes with me as I had first thought to do. How stupid am I? (Answer: Very.)

At the 2.5 marker, I was seriously considering looking for a cab to drive me the last half mile.

By the time I got back to my car, I was thinking of word combinations that would make a trucker blush.

I now have half-dollar sized blisters all over both feet. I wore my padded Reef slippers to a meeting at church last night. And I did all this for you, just so I could report accurately on what it is like to walk barefoot.

Obviously I should have worked up to a longer distance in these new shoes. Trying to do three miles in a new kind of footwear–with no socks, no inner padding at all–was madness. I could have done long-lasting damage to my feet. (As it is, you will not see me out walking for several days, that’s for sure.) But that is the way I am. When I get an idea to do something, I dive in without giving it much thought, without considering my abilities and stamina. I do it with physical things, like walking in Vibram Five Fingers, and I do it spiritually as well.

Walking barefoot spiritually is where all followers of Jesus should be heading. We need to set aside the padding we have to keep us from feeling pain and enter the world as it truly is. As someone said in a comment on the first part of this subject, the ultimate barefoot walker is God Himself, who set aside His shoes to walk with us here on earth. But we need some practice walking barefoot. We need to build up calluses on our feet so they are tough enough to withstand the hard places we will be called to walk. Are we really ready to walk barefoot in this world?

There is a well-known story told by Jesus that we often think means we need to conduct an inner-inventory to be sure we have what it takes to be His disciple. We read it in Luke 14: 28-32 (here from The Message):

Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: “He started something he couldn’t finish.”

Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

But Jesus is not asking us to consider if we have it in ourselves to go the distance with Him. That question has already been answered: Of course we don’t have what it takes! We are utterly, miserably bereft of any ability to please God on our own. Isn’t that the whole point of the Gospel, the Good News that our failure is no longer counted against us? No, our feet are never going to be strong enough in our own power to make it–not around a three-mile flat surface, let alone through the horrors of this world.

But where we are weak, that is where He is strong. If we are going to rely on our own fortitude and will-power to meet the needs of this messed-up world, we are going to find ourselves limping at the halfway point–or sooner. We’ll be grabbing at all the padding we can find, or maybe we give up walking with the Lord all together because our feet just can’t take it.

My stupid effort to walk the trail in those new shoes would be like me deciding that, yes, I want to walk barefoot in this world, get away from the safety I have been clinging to all my life and walk with our dangerous God. All this is good–it is what I really do want. But if my first action would be to sell everything I own, jump on a plane and go live in the gutters of Calcutta, well, how soon until I develop blisters on my heart that keeps me from walking anywhere? How can I build up to that level of commitment? Not in my own power, that is how–or rather how not to do it.

Walking barefoot with Jesus means taking this world as it truly is and presenting the gospel of grace as it truly is. There will be times when we will do this walking thru lush, cool grass. There will be times when we do this walking on sharp, ice-covered rocks. Our call is to walk, not to judge the surface we are walking on.

We see an example of walking barefoot in Isaiah’s proclamation of the type of fast God is looking for:

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Isaiah 58:6-9, The Message

We read about walking barefoot in Matthew 25, the story of the division of sheep and goats based on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison. We read about it in Matthew 18 when we are told not to despise the least and last and lost. Jesus walked barefoot when he touched lepers to heal them. Peter walked barefoot to the home of Cornelius, thus opening the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul walked barefoot on Mars Hill with the men of Athens. The writer of Hebrews walked barefoot with the All-Consuming Fire.

Taking the padding off of our feet is not easy. It will hurt. It takes a while to build up the bottoms of our feet to withstand the pain of this sharp and cruel world, a world not made for bare feet. There will be times we long for our Brooks Beast shoes with SmartWool socks. And there will be times when we think we can go no farther. Yet we have a Friend with us who has promised to never leave us. He will pick us up and carry us when we really are at an end in ourselves. (Yes, I know the poem about footprints in the sand. No, for the sake of all, I am not going to add it here.) He is eternally patient with us as our feet harden so that we can walk as comfortably as possible thru this world without shoes.

If you are experiencing a period where you are not hearing from the Lord, where you feel spiritually dry, could it possibly be that you need to take your shoes off and touch this world as it really is? God only deals in reality. If you are going through a time of hurt and pain, could it be that you have taken off your shoes and now are going through the “toughening-up” phase? The pain will not endure. You will be able to walk again.

At least that is what I am telling myself right now. My physical feet are still screaming at me every time I put weight on them. And my spiritual feet–my soul–still screams at times at me as well. Yet I cannot go back. I have had a drink at the fountain of danger and reality and find it is more satisfying than the sips of safety I have been taking. I will endure the pain to walk with the very real Jesus.

And yes, you will see me wearing the Five Fingers again. But not for a while. And if I am carrying Brooks with me, understand I am still growing into this barefoot thing.


  1. I think you guys are developing this theme well. It also ties in with Chaplain Mike’s post a while back about this site not being the real world. Way to easy to walk the well-trod path, comfortable, talking the talk and then going back to the newspaper. These are good reminders that Christianity must be lived out in real life. Kind of ironic considering the name of the site, suggesting contemplative isolation from the world, eh?

  2. I suspect that Bushmen like the characters in THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY (or WALKABOUT – which I’ve yet to see) who walk barefoot develop thick calluses on their feet. I remember a story of a guy who lived among natives somewhere or something and one of them sliced off a callus layer from the bottom of his foot with the guy’s knife to show him as kind of a joke.

    The word “tenderfoot” for a newbie has a literal meaning; living in cowboy country, you should know. 🙂 The shoe salesman should have given you a stern warning about going too far too fast in your new finger soles.

    I’d liken starting to walk barefoot to starting to play guitar (which I am doing). The steel strings hurt like gehenna for the first few weeks, but then after awhile I could play without pain.

    So, yes, you overdid it. In fact, I suspect if a person really develops proper bare walking feet, he’ll have to buy new shoes because the calluses will widen and thicken his foot so he’ll need a larger shoe.

    Once your blisters go down, wear them around the house when you get home, and take them off when your feet start to hurt. Or just do a half hour at a time for starters, and then increase the time until you can wear them all day long without pain. And then walk outside in them. I haven’t read any instructions about doing this, but it makes sense to me.

    But – no pain, no gain, as they say.

  3. BlueWarrior says

    I’m done here. I have only one other time posted here, but I have been daily reading for over two years. It will never be the same and it is fading swiftly into that good night. I am going to cut my losses and move on. Michael Spencer, thanks for the memories. I will feed on the archives, I guess, and wait for Michael’s book.

    • Jeff Dunn says

      We will miss you. Book comes out on June 15. Enjoy!

    • Sorry you feel that way. Let us know if there is something you’d like to see. We’re committed to doing our best to honor the spirit and voice of the iMonk.

      • DunkerEric says

        I’d just like to share that I have been enjoying the blog. I think Chaplain Mike is a worthy successor, though in a different style and with your own voice.

    • ahumanoid says


      I think this is a beautiful post. If you don’t post here, you have just been leeching of the work others. You could show some appreciation for those that are putting much effort (without out any personal benefit) into keeping this site going. I really can’t believe that you have the audacity to complain!

      • BlueWarrior says

        Thank you for your kindness. I assume from your response that trying to heal from some deep, deep wounds while gaining sustenance from Michaels’s writings without “putting in my two-cents” diminishes my ability to now comment. I am sorry. Didn’t mean to step outside those demarcations of which I was not aware.

        • A little too personal and below the belt for this comment thread, folks. As moderator, please know that you are both welcome to read and comment on the subject at hand with complete honesty. Turning on each other, however, is usually frowned upon and will be kept within bounds as I see fit.

        • ahumanoid says

          “I assume from your response that trying to heal from some deep, deep wounds while gaining sustenance from Michaels’s writings without “putting in my two-cents” diminishes my ability to now comment.”

          That was not the intent of my comment. Constructive comments are not a problem, but the lack of appreciation for the hard work of Chap. Mike, Jeff et al was very inappropriate.

          I sincerely hope that you will find healing for your wounds. Peace & Love, friend.

  4. I’m used to walking barefoot around suburban streets, the university, playing soccer, travelling by bike or bus without shoes.

    But when it comes to real life, I’m a tenderfoot, wanting to follow where Jesus calls me but still longing for safety and comfort.

  5. I can’t begin to tell you how much the last few posts have inspired and challenged me. Yes, and comforted me too, as I realize that I don’t HAVE to plunge right into walk a marathon barefoot, I just have to find that first step.

    I have no idea what that first step will be, but I’m slowly loosening my grip on what is ‘safe’.

    • Jeff Dunn says

      I am right there with you, Rea. I have had a glimpse of this dangerous God, and have no desire to return to my safe idols. But my feet are still very tender. Fortunately, God doesn’t mind walking slowly with me. He is very patient, after all. Glad to have company on the journey to calluses!

  6. Once again, incredibly pertinent to what is going on in my life right now. One of the biggest lessons of the past couple of years is to realize that “drugging” myself (in my case, the drugging is metaphorical) in order to avoid pain also dulls me to the injuries that I still manage to inflict on myself and others. It wasn’t until I was forced to confront the pain of really knowing what I was doing to myself and those around me that I began to change my behavior.

    Thanks for this, and allow me to recommend Sketchers Shape-Ups…great shoes!

  7. As we discuss walking barefoot in $75 footwear let us remember that there are millions of people for whom REALLY walking barefoot is an inescapable reality, and $75 would feed them for several months.

    This is not meant as a criticism, and I also spend money on — by that standard — luxury items; but it’s good for us to remember how blessed we are materially and to re-evaluate what proportion of our income is spent on essential and non-essential things, and how much of it we share with others in need.

    • Agree totally, Paul. We are filthy rich compared with so many others. Yes, I experimented with a relatively expensive pair of shoes while so many today will struggle to put the barest essentials on the family table. And yes, I struggle with that internally. But I think that is a very different discussion, and one we should have here at IM. And I think I may have just the person to lead us in that discussion. Thanks for your wisdom as always…

  8. When you consider that we’ve all grown up wearing shoes, it’s not surprising that are feet are soft and tender. We haven’t been able to gradually build up the hard skin needed for walking barefoot.

    But there is something incredibly liberating in walking barefoot.

    As someone who has always enjoyed walking barefoot in the hot summer months, I’ve found vibram fifvefingers to be wonderful to wear, because they protect my feet when walking longer distances, especially along the street. They also feel just like walking barefoot and fit like gloves.

    It’s natural to seek safety and comfort. But like Wolf Paul says, $75 is a lot of money for walking barefoot in comfort!

  9. I think it was Elizabeth Barrett Browning who said something like;

    Earth is crammed with Heaven and every common bush afire with God but only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

    P.S I am not sure who Elizabeth is or what she believes – I just remember reading that she said this. I wrote it in my Bible cover.

    • English poet, Anglican I think – very well worth a read in any case.

    • The complete line is:
      “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

      Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a British poet, the wife of poet Robert Browning, and a fine theologian in her own rite. She would have found a home here at IM. She believed that “Christ’s religion is essentially poetry—poetry glorified.”

      Thanks, Debbie, for reminding me of this quote. We may have to share more of the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.