I knew Scott was going to wash my feet when he proposed because his good friend had done the same. So I brought along 3 bars of LL Bean soap, the first presents Scott ever gave me (for Christmas when we weren’t even dating—I had that horrible “I didn’t get you a present because I didn’t want to presume our relationship is actually going to happen” reaction). We washed each other’s feet with LL Bean lily-of-the-valley scented soap as a symbol of how we wanted to serve one another in our marriage.
Fast forward 19 years to last night when we spent 10 minutes squabbling over who picked up our son from tae-kwon-do. Neither wanted to, both with valid reasons, and we played chicken while our son waited downtown.
Serving is hard. . . despite vowing to serve each other (and others) through our marriage.
When Scott washed my feet on our engagement night, it wasn’t the first time I’d had my feet washed. I’d participated in foot-washing ceremonies at youth group and church as well as campus fellowship events. Always, during the exercise, the question came, “Which was easier, to serve or to be served?”
Most say it’s harder to be served. Sitting with your feet in a bucket, someone gently rubbing soap on your toes, you become acutely aware of how your feet stink. You notice the corns, callouses and bunions, the toenail that might be growing fungus since it’s turned thick, yellow and misshapen. Feet aren’t the most attractive appendage, and having someone see, smell and touch them in all their bumpy reality feels oddly vulnerable.
So Peter jumps away in horror from Jesus and says, “You will never wash my feet!”
And Jesus responds, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me.”
It’s hard to receive. I resist going to Jesus with the dirty smelly parts of me because I want to pretend I’m not that bad. If I let him see my callouses, corns, and fungus, not only do I have to see them myself, I also have to let him serve me—cleaning, healing, sometimes even performing major surgery. Too often, I like my toenails the way they are—even if they’re yellow and misshapen.
But when I resist Jesus’s service, I also choose to have no part with him. Jesus is a king who came to serve, and if I think I don’t have anything to receive, I get nothing.
In real life, I have a harder time serving than being served. At 9 o’clock every night I come to the end of my serving capacity. I don’t want to sign another paper, chauffeur another ride, check another piece of homework, write another email, be asked another question, or wash another dish. I just want to be left alone to do what I want to do.
After 9, when someone comes with another request, I want to scream, “I’M SO TIRED OF DEALING WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S MESSES!” (And to my family’s chagrin, act on that desire too often.)
So Jesus models what leadership looks like if we’re going to follow him. Cheerfully doing the mundane and inglorious. Rinsing dirt he didn’t gather, scrubbing callouses he didn’t form, healing fungus he didn’t catch. Dealing with messes he didn’t create.
Most Maunday Thursdays we wash our kids’ feet and let them wash ours in return. A silly little ritual that like our engagement footwashing, doesn’t necessarily translate into changed behavior or Christ-like character the day after.
But it’s still good to remember. Still good to give. And still good to receive, fungus and all.