You know how you can randomly just be doing something, and suddenly a memory that was locked away in the recesses of your brain rushes to the surface, and you find yourself piecing together all the events, not entirely sure what you’re replaying is actually a memory until you do? And then you burst out laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the reality?
That was me yesterday when I remembered a time when one of my friends was really sick.
I know, I know – it doesn’t sound funny, but I assure you it was. It was a random day when said friend called asking if I had any malaria medicine. It just so happened I did (because my dad is more cautious than I, and always requires that I take anti-malaria meds back with me whenever I visit), so I rushed over to his, along with our other friend, only to find him curled up in a ball on his living room floor, his temperature through the roof, and looking like he had/was about to puke up a storm.
Of course, being the good friends we are, we quickly assessed the situation and decided it was indeed malaria (because every Ghanaian has a doctorate in all things concerning phylum Apicomplexa), and that we would have to bathe him to get his temperature down in order for the fever to break. I promise you, after providing him with our diagnosis and treatment plan, I have never seen a man more scared of two women in his life LOL.
Weak as he was, he still insisted that he would take a cold shower on his own. He actually fled from us when we even tried to lower his temperature with a cold body towel and locked himself in the bathroom. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he insisted on cleaning himself up, when he didn’t have to.
Now, while the memory of him hobbling away from our unskilled (but loving) medical hands is still hilarious, I actually understand it. In fact, thinking back to another moment that tested our friendship, it was after a comment he made about how he judges women by their feet that I suddenly started being very self-conscious about my feet and paying a LOT more attention to pedicures (of course, this was when I first met him… now we have played foot cushion to each others’ crusty feet and more).
What was really going on in both situations was not a lack of trust, but rather a fear of vulnerability – the same fear Peter expressed when Jesus knelt down to wash his feet.
“You? Wash MY feet? Never!” He yells, recoiling at Jesus’ touch.
Yes, the idea of a master washing his servant’s feet was foreign to Peter, and to see the one he called Lord bowed so low must have left him in dismay. But I also believe, that deep down somewhere, Peter did not want the one he loved and admired touching his messy feet. They had spent the last 3 years traveling, and his feet had some wear and tear on them. Corns, cuts, dirt, bruises – these are the kinds of things you hid away under a cloak, not made the ones you love clean up.
And are we any different? Jesus reaches for the messy places in our lives and we flee in terror. Yes, we know he knows our imperfections, but we don’t actually want him to DO anything with them. We just figure that by some off chance, after following him long enough, they’ll clear up on their own. But Jesus does not take this approach with the ones closest to him – the ones he loves most dearly. No, instead he reaches out in order to embrace what we most detest about ourselves:
“If I do not wash your feet, you cannot be part of what I’m doing.”
This truth catches Peter by surprise. He thinks back to all the wonderful things he has watched his Lord do over the last three years: heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, walk on water, love unlike any other. He wants nothing more than to be part of what Jesus is doing. It doesn’t take but a moment for him to shoot his foot back out in Jesus’ face.
“Not just my feet, but my hands and head as well!” He exclaims.
Peter discovers a truth that we all must at some point in our walk with Christ: that to truly follow him, we must be vulnerable. It’s not enough that he knows our weakness – we must be willing to hand them over to him and allow him to do something with them. It’s not enough to simply recognize and acknowledge our sin – we must let him into the vulnerable places that cause us to fall into sin, and give him access to those fears and identity issues that trip us up, so we never have to fall again. Jesus wants us to come as we are, but unfortunately, if we are to partner with him in all the amazing things he wants to do in, for and through us, we cannot remain as we are. We have to get into the habit of bringing these things to him, telling him about them, and letting him do what he does best: heal, change, redeem, restore, and make whole again.
I often (way too often) find myself seated with my feet on Jesus’ lap as he dips his hand into the foot bath to make sure the temperature is just right.
I take a deep breath.
“So… I did it again.” I whisper.
“You did.” He responds, lifting his eyes to meet my gaze. His face is neither hardened with anger, nor his voice harsh with judgement.
“I didn’t plan to…” I begin to argue, but his expression has not changed to one of disappointment. In fact, it is one of care and concern. I realize that he does not need my arguments or excuses – he longs for my peace.
He sprinkles a handful of salt into the swirling water and then gently lowers my feet into it. The sensation is calming.
“Why don’t you tell me again how you think you got there,” he suggests, pulling out his tools. “And we’ll figure out together how we can make sure you never have to again?”
I take a deep breath and begin to pour out my heart as he listens and works. His voice is encouraging. His hands are both swift and gentle. And somewhere, in my heart, things begin to change.