For a good portion of my married life, we were blessed with an annual vacation on the company dime. We stayed at high-end resorts where the drinks always had enough fruit for a salad, the pool floats cost more to rent than I spent on groceries each week and women wore a different swimsuit each day. We were way out of our league, we skipped the meals that weren’t included in the event, we hovered on the edges of parties with cash bars. Struggling to buy a dress for the big banquet evening, I certainly didn’t do any prep to get my winter body resort ready. Even as the years of financial struggle eased into ones where we didn’t hide our old luggage, I never felt comfortable with the sudden thrust into baring my arms, my legs and for the love of God, not my feet.
To my better manicured friends, this is not a judgement but a confession. I have had maybe 3 pedicures in my 56 years. I wish I could assure you all that I have attended to those calluses, have painted a pretty pink enamel on my toes, that I have sloughed and buffed my feet on my own, saving money but still taking care of business. The truth is that I just don’t. I am rough on my feet. I go barefoot around my yard all summer. I walk on gravel and in the mud, I mostly pretend no one can see my beat up feet, that they aren’t a reflection of my self-care, that they are merely tools that get me from the front porch to the back. They often hurt, I always sit with them raised, I take medication to ensure I can put weight on them, still I spend no time caring for them cosmetically.
Having read about Jesus washing the disciples feet more times than I can count, having listened to sermons that described the humility of Christ, I never considered just how vulnerable those folks felt as Jesus grabbed the pitcher of water and a towel and began to scrub. One year when money was a bit more accessible, I went for a pedicure before the conference, engaging in much self-talk to prepare myself for the experience. I remedied myself that I wouldn’t know the person doing the washing and trimming, that I would likely never see them again so their judgement wouldn’t really matter. Even if they shared stories at the end of their shifts about the worst feet they ever saw, the people bent over the basins couldn’t really impact me. We wouldn’t be lunching together later, we didn’t go to the same church, they wouldn’t be at my grandson’s school events. There was comfort in distancing myself from the person who provided the service.
The vulnerability I felt as my feet soaked was excruciating. I was sure they were judging me, that all the words flying around in a language I didn’t know were mocking me and my battle weary toes. They scrubbed with a vengeance, they clucked and tut-tutted at my cuticles. We both knew that the paint they applied couldn’t hide the state of my feet and I really should stick to tennis shoes and skip the scrappy sandals. No, I don’t go for pedicures, I have given up on a luxury that is outside my socio-economic status and my courage. My feet are a mess and probably a great indicator of my soul. But I can’t get it out of my head that Jesus washed the feet of those gathered around him, those men who had been walking with him on the journey to the cross. Surely those feet too were calloused and dusty and in need of a good pair of clippers. Can you imagine the smell? I wonder if Jesus regretted his decision after the first whiff. Last night when my Plum slayed his legs across my lap, I recalled the funk of adolescent boy and realized that no amount of love for him would keep my arms from scooting those toes further from my face.
I get the point of Jesus’s actions. What I hadn’t considered is just how vulnerable the disciples felt. The first guy surely protested, the second and third may have been filled with anxiety, regretting that they hadn’t done a prewash. As Jesus moved down the line, the urge to sneak away and find a pumice stone surely heightened. I imagine they ached show Jesus their best selves, to prove that they weren’t uncouth and unclean. What information about the disciples was Jesus gaining from the state of their heels? The last pedicure I had, a surprise bonus at the resort with several other wives, was the second one that week. I entered into the spa with a sense of peace, why I had visited the local salon at home only days before! Surely the technician would marvel at my smooth skin and coo at the pretty nails. Ah, this is the life, I thought, as I confidently sat in the chair and offered my feet as a pretend rich lady, sipping on cold wine in a real glass. All was good until she took one look and advised me that I needed to pay more attention to my feet. She explained a bit haughtily that my feet were a mess and I should get pedicures on a regular basis. Shamed, I gulped my wine and wondered if running out right then or sitting in my shame was worse. I was unworthy of the surroundings, I was marked as not belonging.
When Jesus bent over the feet of His disciples, it was without judgement, from the One who rightly could judge. It was with gentleness that he lifted each foot, it was with acceptance that He wiped away the dirt of the journey. We know His love for us extends even to our most shameful places. We hear often about the grace He offers even our rugged, battle-scarred souls. His willingness to serve us is preached and written about daily. The real question is whether we are brave enough to stay right there, looking into His eyes as He offers cool water and a warm towel. I don’t know that I will ever enter another spa but today I am considering baring my feet, exposing my very foundation, risking condemnation, in the hope that Jesus will see through my pretenses and shame. What if I find adoration and an intimate invitation into vulnerability and honesty? What I let Jesus wash my feet and my heart today? What if I sit down and patiently accept my turn and stop worrying about being good enough?