One Set of ‘Footprints in the Sand’ is Plenty for This Kid

By Wendy Thomas Russell | February 25, 2013 | 5 comments

Footprints in the sand on beach near San José del Cabo, Mexico at sunrise

When I was growing up — Missouri, 1980s — half the kids I knew had a framed copy of “Footprints in the Sand” somewhere in their house. Usually hanging in the living room.

That poem was as meaningful to these families as Rudyard Kipling’s “If” was to ours. (My mom gave me a poster-sized copy of “If” right before I entered adolescence. I must have read it 500 times.)

The point is, although it wasn’t in my own home, “Footprints in the Sand” was a part of my childhood. I have vivid memories of staring into the ubiquitous pictures of sandy beaches and thinking what a comforting, beautiful sentiment that was. Or maybe it was just the thought of a beach that I found so comforting and beautiful. (This was Missouri, after all.) I assume most of you have read it, but here it is:

Footprints in the Sand 

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from anguish,
sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints,
so I said to the Lord,
“ You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied,
“The years when you have seen only one set of footprints,
my child, is when I carried you.”

author unknown

This notion of always having someone with us to keep us going is among the most common reasons people desire religious faith. It’s also, I’ve discovered, a reason that secular parents who were raised in religious households sometimes feel a sense guilt for not introducing their kids to this potentially friendly presence in their lives.

But telling a child that God is in the room with them is not nearly as compelling as it sounds. Kids’ minds are far more active than ours, their imaginations are rich and vibrant. If they want or need company, they have no trouble finding it. They hug their stuffed animals. They invent imaginary friends. They cling to their blankets. They talk to themselves.

I know I’m getting into “blasphemous” territory here, but kindly bear with me… Whether or not kids think there’s a God above doesn’t change the fact that they must solve their own problems here on Earth. In my personal experience, whether we talk things through with God or with Paddington Bear has absolutely no influence on the outcome.

As I’ve said before, my 7-year-old is very much on the fence about God. She believes sometimes and not other times — and that’s fine by me. But she said something recently that inspired this post and made certain that, whatever she ends up believing, she likely won’t ever feel the need for “Footprints in the Sand.”

“I’ll never be lonely,” she told me, “because I’ll always have myself.”

Now THAT I’d hang in the living room.


  1. Mark says:

    Thank you Patricia for standing up for the faith, Matt 10:32
    Whoever acknowledges me before men i will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven. You are right about “I will never leave you or forsake you” Providing you do not foresake the Lord because his word also says in Jeremiah 17:13 “O Lord the hope of Israel, All who foresake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have foresaken the Lord the spring of living water.” this from the God who is the same yesterday, today and tommorow. “IF” is a very small word but has such big implications. “IF” my life had not gone the way it did i might have saved myself a lot of grief. luckily God is allways there to pick up the peices and mend broken hearts, minds, and even bodies. I doubt that rudyard Kipling can say the same.

  2. Fair enough that cuddly toys help comfort during childhood but they are of limited help in adulthood. Also, talking to God does make a difference that toys can’t – many times I’ve placed things in God’s hands for him to come up with better solutions then the ones I’ve thought of. Knowledge of Heaven not only helps with bereavement it is a reminder that problems we encounter on earth are only temporary, there is a place to follow where ‘there will be no more tears or sickness.’ ‘Footprints’ isn’t just a comforting story, it’s an illustration of all the following quotes about how God is there for us, which are found in the Bible; in fact “I will never leave you nor forsake you’ is found three times:-

    I will never leave you nor forsake you Deuteronomy 31 v 8, Hebrews 13 v 5, Joshua

    “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40 v 31

    So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41 v 10

    “Everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.” Romans Chapter 10 v 13

    Do not be frightened … for .. God is with you wherever you go.”
    Joshua 1 v 9

    When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
your troubles will not overwhelm you.
 Isaiah 43 v 2

    God Bless

  3. Don says:

    I recently saw the Footprints in the Sand poem posted on an atheist FB page with this change: The Lord replied, “Sandpeople always ride single file, to hide their numbers.”

    Still makes me chuckle…

  4. Harry Schaefer says:

    Nice quote from a 7 year old. Out of the mouth of babes…

    By the way, I think Rudyard would be proud of the man you turned out to be.

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Due out March 31, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.

      Natural Wonderers is my new blog published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of my previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
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