Sunday was Father’s Day and to celebrate that our church hosted a special brunch an hour before our regular meeting time. I arrived with the kids about twenty minutes after it had started, and Aaron and Mercy raced right in to find their daddy and to search for doughnuts. I had hoped that the baby would fall asleep on our walk there, but he was instead lying in the stroller, with a blanket draped over the canopy, fussing and crying. I knew that he just needed to sleep, so I stayed outside and paced the sidewalk in front of Mack Elementary while Doug and the kiddos celebrated inside.
At some point, a woman came out of the auditorium. She is new to our church and we have spoken a few times in the past weeks. She is warm and gentle and kind to my kids, and we primarily communicate with each other in spanish.
She walked up to me and told me that she would walk the baby so that i could go inside and be with my husband. “No, no,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m fine.” The truth was I was not fine. I was frustrated and tired and was losing patience with my not-sleeping baby.
Again she offered. Again I refused.
She went back inside and I walked and walked, and by the time I made it back in with a sleeping one, there was not a chance to get any food before we started our time of worship, and Doug needed to be up front to lead.
Later I thought about my response to this woman’s offer of help, and why I could not accept it. Looking back I realized that I would have been blessed by the break; by the time with Doug; by the time with my big kids and their doughnuts. And I think she would have been blessed too. And yet I held back, clinging to my own burden, and refusing to let a yoke-fellow enter and ease the weight of my load.
This past week, the kids and I were reading bible stories, and we got to the part where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. I read the story and did my best to explain to them the significance of having your feet washed, and then I had an idea. “Wait here!” I said, going into the bathroom and wrapping a towel around my waist and filling their play-sink basin with warm, soapy water. I came out and kneeled down beside the futon where they sat and told them we could act out the story.
Instantly, they each drew their feet up underneath them. As much as I pleaded with them and tried to get them excited about acting out the story we had just read, they were resolute in their refusal. They would not let me wash their feet. I was taken aback by their reaction: my kids LOVE pretend-play. How was this so different from me “being the prince“? Was it my identification with Jesus and the connection between this story and his death (we had talked about this)? Were they scared that if I washed their feet I would die?
Eventually I gave up, took off the towel, and dumped the basin into the bathtub. I marveled at their resistance to what I was trying to do, and realized that while I have read and heard and considered the story of Peter’s resistance to Jesus countless times, I never really had any emotional connection to it. But something about the fierce obstinance, fear even, of my two and three-year olds gave me a new picture of what Jesus received from his dear disciple. Like Mercy and Aaron, I can imagine Peter’s wheels turning: “If I let him do this, what does that mean? What are the ramifications of this?”
Servanthood. Sacrifice. Mutuality. Loving others more than we love ourselves. These are the inheritance of those who allow the master to wash them. A purification not to be set apart and kept clean but rather one that leads to more dirt and greater callouses. Amazing.
Is that why I did not let the spanish woman longing to love me push the stroller in my place? We always hear about Peter’s pride, but could it not be as well that to be washed by Jesus is to accept that same mandate: to stoop and serve even the lowest?
I am reminded of Scot McKnight’s foot-washing story in A Community Called Atonement, and the powerful call we all share as followers of a towel and basin King.