Where Love Is, God Is by Leo Tolstoy

Christmas StoriesWhere God Is, Love Is

Martin Avdéitch is an honest and hard-working shoemaker who lives in the basement of a building with only one window where he can gaze out on the street and see people’s feet passing by. Although his work keeps him busy with little time for socializing, he recognizes the people from seeing their boots as they pass.  His wife, poor dear, is dead, as are his many children, however one little boy is still with him and while he thinks of sending him to live with relatives, he decides to keep him with him for company.  Yet, alas, his son passes away from an illness and Martin is left all alone.

The Shoemaker

The Shoemaker (1878) Ferdinand Hodler
~ source Wikiart

One day a missionary pilgrim comes to visit and Martin shares with him the griefs and hardships of his life, wondering why God has allowed him such troubles. Since he is without hope, he may as well die.  The missionary responds:

“You have no right to say such things, Martin.  We cannot judge God’s ways.  Not our reasoning, but God’s will, decides.  If God willed that your son should die and you should live, it must be best so.  As to your despair — that comes because you wish to live for your own happiness.”

Martin is puzzled.  If one doesn’t live for his own happiness, what does he live for?

“For God, Martin. He gives you life, and you must live for Him.  When you have learnt to live for Him, you will grieve no more, and all will seem easy to you.”

He urges Martin to read the Gospels which will give him the blueprint of Christ’s life to emulate.  Martin does as he is instructed finding peace in what he learns, and one night he is woken from his sleep by a voice telling him, “I will come.” Certain that Christ himself is going to visit him, he keeps watch for Him but all he sees out his window the next morning is the boots of Stephánitch, a poor man living on charity, whom he invites inside and gives a number of glasses of tea to warm him.  When Stephánitch leaves, he again awaits his visitor but instead spots a woman adorned in poor shabby clothes with a baby.  Bringing them inside, he gives the woman food, clothing and money upon which she blesses him, sure he was sent by Christ. Christ still has not arrived when he spies an apple-woman in a physical confrontation with a boy who has attempted to steal an apple.  Rushing out the door, Martin intervenes, begging them to show love to one another.  With some persuasion, both forgive each other and walk off together in harmony.  But where is Christ?

Christ Blessing

Christ Blessing (1465) Antonello da Messina
~ source Wikiart

Martin, finishing up his work as evening settles in, hears a voice in his ear, “Martin, don’t you know me?”  As he turns he sees the people he has helped that day as ghosts that vanish and the truth suddenly comes to Martin.

“Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” Matthew XXV



Shoemaker (1881) Max Liebermann
~ source Wikiart

This story was so uplifting in spite of the tragic components. As Martin offers others compassion and charity, so does his joy grow. Indeed, if we stop thinking of ourselves and put our energy into helping others, our cares become lighter and our hearts happier. Once again, Tolstoy manages to write a simple masterpiece.  A lovely story for Christmastime!


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8 thoughts on “Where Love Is, God Is by Leo Tolstoy

  1. I am “hanging in there” as they say, in these difficult times, although the attention span is short & the ability to concentrate is limited. Fortunately, there are books to suit all moods, so it’s mostly comfort re-reads, novellas and articles/stories for me these days. I was unaware of the Tolstoy novella you’ve reviewed, so perhaps I’ll put it on my list . . . . the message is certainly a refreshing change from the current news these days.

    • I’m learning more and more that when you get entrenched in the world, it has a tendency to drag you down to its level. What I enjoyed about this story is Martin’s ability to rise above his circumstances and see his life from a whole different perspective, which gave it new meaning. I’d like to try to emulate Martin’s example.

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