Can you tie your shoes?


On my recent birthday, I proudly turned 62 years of age. It is still pretty mind-blowing to me to say that number, but it is indeed accurate. And turning 62 is a lot better than NOT turning 62, I’ve decided.

As I look back on those years I am proud of many things, one of which is having learned to tie my own shoes at the age of five or six. It took a while, with many failed attempts, but persistence and patient parents finally paid off. And so imagine my shock earlier this week when I learned that for the last 56 or 57 years I have been tying my shoes wrong.

That’s right… wrong. And it is highly likely that you are also tying your shoes incorrectly.

Earlier this week a friend of mine told me about a recent TED Talk where he learned this. In case you are not familiar with TED Talks, TED is a global set of conferences that are owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation. Their slogan is, “ideas worth spreading”. TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event, but has become an annual and a global phenomenon. The topics are wide and varied, ranging from nuclear fusion to … tying your shoes.

Here is the link so you can see the whole, 3.5 minute talk yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAFcV7zuUDA. To make a long story short, a man bought a pair of expensive shoes with round vinyl laces. After wearing the shoes for a day or two, he noticed that the laces kept coming untied. He went back to the store to complain and was told by the salesperson, “It’s probably because you are tying them wrong.”

The clerk then patiently demonstrated the right way to tie one’s shoes. Actually instead of “wrong” and “right” it is more accurate to say there is a “strong” tie and a “weak” tie. The weak version is the one that comes undone easily. The whole key is which way the rabbit goes around the tree (… if your parents used the same word picture mine did when teaching you).

When the rabbit goes around the tree COUNTERCLOCKWISE, as all of us learned growing up, we get a weak knot. When the rabbit goes around the tree the other way, CLOCKWISE, the knot is strong and will not come undone. Try it! It is incredibly difficult to “unlearn” doing it the way you have done it every day for your whole life, but the difference is dramatic.

As it turns out, this lesson about tying our shoes also provides a great metaphor and lesson about life when you think about it. How often do we find ourselves doing something the same exact way we have always done it? How many different areas of our life are characterized by rote, unexamined habit… habit that may or may not represent the best approach?

And then, how vigorously do we resist adopting or even considering a new approach, even when the benefits of that approach have been clearly demonstrated to us? Since seeing this video, I have been trying to use the strong method, but just this morning fell instantly back to the old way when I put on my tennis shoes! And then there are the people who will simply cope with the time-tested method of denial and say, “Heck with it… I’ll just wear nothing but loafers.”

The new year invites new ideas and fresh approaches in all areas of our lives… including our faith life. We worship the God who, “… was, and is, and will be” the same for eternity, but who is also very much the God of the “new thing” (Isaiah 43:18). This year… this day we are invited to challenge habit and convention and shoulder the discomfort of living in the “not yet” as people of faith.

It ain’t easy. But you can do it. I know you can.

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