I stared at the four young women perched on the corners of the large roman tub. The water was a few inches deep; colorful containers of foot scrubs and lotion were scattered about the bathroom floor and the tub’s edge. The sharp smell of peppermint was quickly clearing through my nostrils.
Insecurity rose up as I looked down. My feet? Someone wanted to wash and scrub my feet?
My long, Florida sun-tanned toes outlined sharply against the white bathroom tile. Their lack of daily care was much too evident. Each toenail was a different length, the shiny pinkish purple nail polish I’d painted on in early October barely clinging to two of my nails. I’d parted ways with my pumice stone when Chase was still in diapers and hadn’t gotten around to buying another.
I had no problem with washing and scrubbing someone else’s feet. It was the unsettling idea of having my own callused, definitely-tomboy tootsies rubbed by one of the sweet young women from church that had me frowning with nervousness and embarrassment.
We were having a laid-back girls’ night out, enjoying a variety of delicious snacks and treats while planning a little spa pampering, all sprinkled with talk of the jobs, husbands and families. Most of the ladies were 20-something newlyweds; there was only one other woman with children. I was greatly enjoying the evening away from home, my mind off my children and house for a couple hours as my personal battery quickly, gratefully recharged.
“Come on, I’ll do yours.” Danielle, early 20’s, a petite brunette with beautiful brown eyes and a quick smile motioned me over. I cringed inside, wishing I could trade in my serviceable, perpetually flip-flop clad feet for a pair of dainty, nail-polish-highlighted feet. “I apologize for any trauma this may cause,” I muttered as I climbed in and sat on the tub lip. Smiling sheepishly, I traded my foot for hers and tried to relax.
Washing someone else’s feet was a novel experience. Though I’d occasionally massaged my husband’s feet, I’d never actually washed them. In our present day abundance and technology (and given the hot Florida climate), daily showers and baths are a necessity. When my children were babies they were both ticklish enough that I couldn’t linger around those pink sausages long for fear of being splashed, kicked or causing a miniature tidal wave.
As I carefully scrubbed Danielle’s feet it struck me how intimate and humbling this experience was for both the washer and washee. After all, our feet see and touch the worst of wherever we are – the ground, the inside of well-used shoes, the dirt or grass – places we wouldn’t put our hands. Our feet are the transportation for our body. If they’re tired, hurt or sore, that’s most likely the state of our body as well. I realized that washing another’s feet was a true act of service.
I was also reminded of Jesus in the book of John. After sharing the Passover Meal with his disciples, he “took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:4-5). Imagine the disciples’ shock at having God’s perfect son bent down in front of them, dark hair spilling around His beloved face as He concentrated.
Peter even incredulously asked, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” (John 13:6).
What exactly was Jesus telling and showing his disciples – and us? Why was it necessary for Him to humble himself to His disciples’ feet? Jesus chose to do what they could very easily have done for each other. But He was purposed from His Father and soon to leave earth, and He wasn’t finished teaching His disciples. In the book of Luke, “there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest” (22:24). Jesus was settling this dispute with his actions. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). He lowered himself to the floor and showed not only His love for them but also became an example of how we, as Christ-followers, are to love each other. Not service with a smile, but service from our heart. As Owald Chambers notes, “Service is the overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion.”
Jesus doesn’t call us to be great for Him; He calls us to greatly serve each other for Him.
When I read over this account in the book of John, I couldn’t help but see Jesus – God’s beloved son, my wonderful, sinless Savior – acknowledging and overcoming the dark heart of human nature…self. Human nature, from the first cries of birth to the quiet groans of death, struggles to elevate itself above those around us. We naturally seek for self before and above anything – or anyone – else. “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16). Yet self-seeking goes against the sanctified, redeemed nature of those born again through faith in Jesus Christ. “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
God’s word warns against selfishness while teaching and admonishing toward selflessness. The Bible states that the fruit of the Spirit is, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our natural tendency is to fight first and foremost for our own good, yet we were not created by God in a vacuum. We exist side by side with others on purpose and with purpose…to serve others as Jesus served…to love others because God first loved us, because that’s what God has called us to do within His word. Jesus told His disciples in John 13:34 & 35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It’s a tall order, one I fail at regularly. But when I strive after Jesus, I’m striving toward this end: learning to love and serve others selflessly.
Paul exhorts us in Philippians, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Through the act of washing and drying the disciples’ feet Jesus showed us precisely how we’re to disable our human desire of elevating self. “If I then, your Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Through humble obedience to God and His word, we can learn to let go of our overwhelming desire for self and grab onto a Christ-centered desire to serve others.
Though feet-washing may not be a regular occurrence in my life, the joy-instilling, selfless act of doing so for another reestablished in my heart the important need to serve others with my life, in order to honor His.