Almost daily I lift my children to a small sink and wash their feet. Our outdoor trampoline is a hospitable magnet for the sticky, freeway dust and scrubbing floors and carpets is the pits. So I try to intervene. When I catch one of them after a rendezvous with city nature, I swoop them up to a perch on my lap and swing their feet under running water.
The brief, basic moment of rubbing their boy toes with my hand, watching the dirty slip off with the bubbles, having the weight of them on me, is a sweet one. I cannot help but be thankful for those seconds. So human, so sacred. I need those pauses in these heavy days.
At the sink, I am reminded of a kind Example who loved His followers “to the end” and showed it in a memorable way. Only He could know what that even means. John 13 retells how Jesus was overcome with both a love for the disciples and a profound understanding of Who He Was and where He was going. And so He rose from the table. Rose to kneel, to wash their feet. To upset the flesh, to reveal the real, to demonstrate His tenderness, to break a barrier.
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
He does not tell them to do things that they cannot. He does not tell them to do things that are not for their good.
Years ago, when I was much more confident, and much less wordy, I was a resident advisor for a small group of women who lived, hiked, learned, and played (along with some mountain men) in the high sierras. There had been a particularly dramatic couple of weeks with one young woman, myself, and a couple of the people in charge of the satellite college campus. Risky situations, manipulation, emergencies and confusion overtook the pine horizon. The air indeed seemed thin. It really wore on me. Somehow, during a moment of peace and worship, He gently, miraculously reminded me of His example in John. A tiny piece of His heart colored my own staunchly right-or-wrong heart so that I could feel a sliver of compassion. It was strange but compelling and I knew that sometime I would have the opportunity to literally wash her feet and it was in our best interest for me to do so.
On a moonlit porch one night I was that crazy, extreme person, awkwardly trying to emulate my Lord, praying that somehow, in the space between my hands and her feet, He would move and it would be good. It was a short, unceremonious ceremony. We embraced. The moon did not become bigger and stars did not stream out of the sky. But something budged, and we were better for the interaction. It was more real than debate. It was more true than self-preservation. And I gave thanks.
Today as I think upon that strange scene, I realize that there was little else to do except to kneel. That in asking me to do that, He helped affirm who I really am. He helped me be less attached to standing up for myself. My warped perception of myself. There was little to do except kneel and remember Him, remember that she was a sister, and that I was here to serve her. That the problems were peripheral. That time was short.
The more I am faced with difficult situations, the more I realize that most of leading a life of love involves kneeling, bending, groundwork. The more I appreciate that my parents have rarely raised their fists when challenged to a fight. There is little to do with marriage, with childrearing, with sharing Good News, learning new cultures, with dealing with people, with dealing with loss, than kneeling. More and more I come to the end of my self, my answers, my abilities, and all I am left with is the truer self He gives and the posture He demonstrates.
Sure there are times at the table. Times to look each other in the eye. Times of celebration and health, confrontation or unity, and no surprises. But the real issue, the heart of the matter, and the crux of life, is the floor. The lowering. There we pray. There we learn not to fear the grime. There I meet myself, I know what I am truly thankful for, and I see the other better. He knows I am such a slow learner. That for me, there is a lot of standing up for myself, that I have been pleased with the results in the past, but that in the realest of circumstances, it is almost always settling.
Now, at the sink, He has given me a regular, grace-filled reminder of Jesus’ example and ending-love. That is, the love and presence that sees us through, to the end. Through to the end of the heavy days. Through to the end of the weeping, the fighting, the loneliness. He is here, and He is there. Raising the lowered. Beside the bending.