Once upon a time … and so begins the story with the happily every after ending. I grew up in a black and white world, not a world of a solid line running between right and wrong, but a world before color television and a world on the bleeding edge of Technicolor cinematography. Storybooks were paper, every page imprinted with black ink with an artist’s watercolor illustration adorning a page just at the moment of waning interest. Every night before bed my mom would read The House at Pooh Corners, or a chapter from a book like Treasures in the Snow, or Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, or the Little House books. But my favorites were the stories that started out with the softness of “Once Upon A Time” and ended with “And they lived happily ever after”. I still want the fairy tale.
Can you guess what my favorite fairy tale is? What is yours? Is it the Cinderella story or maybe Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Maybe it’s Rapunzel or Robin Hood and His Mighty Band of Thieves. My favorite fairy tale is the Shoemaker and the Elves. It’s not about conflict, not about victory over a wicked queen, it’s not about a battle between good and evil; there are no white hats versus black hats; no undercurrent of deception. The Shoemaker and the Elves is all about relationships, personal sacrifice, egoless achievement and support.
This is how I remember the story. Once upon a time there was an old shoemaker. Every day he faithfully went to work in his cobbler shop. Despite the snow, ice, and wind he was there, in his shop every day working hard to provide a warm home and food for his family. Whistling through his day, he stretched, pounded, glued and polished shoes and boots from demanding customers. Being meticulous about his work, and having high quality standards, it took extra time to complete the mounds of boots and shoes on his counter. Every night he assessed his work and every night he prayed that what he had completed was done well and that tomorrow he would make better progress on the tasks ahead. Some days he was so overwhelmed all he could do was pray. Sometimes I think he prayed as David did many times. In Psalm 22:19 he prayed “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” Like David, this shoemaker knew where his strength came from. And in Psalm 143:8 he acknowledges his trust in God. “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life..”
While the shoemaker was pleading with God to bring relief for his burden, his prayers were already being answered. Concealed from human observation were helpers prepared for this mission, elves whose source of joy was in serving. A team of friends who would come alongside him when the shoemaker’s resources were depleted and his reserves exhausted. These excerpts from Romans 8:26-28 gives us an inside view. “The moment we get weary in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know what to pray, He does our praying for us. He knows us far better than we know ourselves and knows our condition. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives is being taken care of by compassionate God.”
Each night the shoemaker lined up his work for the next day, swept the floor, snuffed out the candles and went home, satisfied with his accomplishments, but always with an eye on his plan for tomorrow. As he entered his home, I can hear his memory recalling Romans 15:5-6 “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the story there is no indication that the shoemaker abandoned his responsibilities to the ‘elves’ and expected them to work so he didn’t have to. His attitude was one of gratefulness to his secret helpers, recognizing their efforts as important as his own. Romans 11:18 “Do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”
Once upon a time . . . I think God knew the heart of the shoemaker was centered on doing the right things despite his circumstances. He was diligent in using the skills God gave him, but he was not too proud to pray for relief and accept help when his situation became too challenging. I love the way the Message describes the relationship between need and fulfillment. The subject here is the Apostle Paul, but it could characterize any one of us if God is Lord and Master of our life. Philippians 4:13-14 “I’ve found the recipe for being happy…Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.”
I still love the fairy tale, but those are just stories, wishful thinking, a dream of living happily ever after. Our happily ever after comes in eternity with God and his son Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
And they lived happily ever after.
The original story of the Elves and the Shoemaker written by The Grimm Brothers.