From Amy Yoder McGloughlin.
My first experience with foot washing was not at a foot washing service. It was when my friend, Karla, gave me a pedicure.
I didn’t ask her to–she really wanted to do this for me. And I didn’t know how to say no.
Karla was newly married, and new to Philadelphia. Her family was from Honduras, and while her English was proficient, it wasn’t her heart language. Philadelphia was lonely and unfamiliar. And she was pregnant with her first child, a fact that took her by surprise. She was seven months pregnant, stooping over my dusty summer feet, and I was so embarrassed.
When I first met Karla, she became like a sister to me almost immediately. I had just had my first child, and after 2 years of full time work, I was quitting, to stay home with my energetic son, while I incubated the hope of another child soon to come.
I didn’t love staying at home with my son. Some parents are cut out for playgrounds, sippy cups, stroller walks, and nap time, but I found it isolating and lonely. Mustering up enthusiasm for legos and Sponge Bob Squarepants was not something I could fake. I longed to feel more useful to the wider world, even while understanding intellectually that my son needed me.
Karla was easy to talk to. She also knew loneliness. She was trying to find her way in this new world, just was I was in a new season of my life.
So one day, she bought a foot bath and told me she was going to give me a pedicure. The details are hazy, but I remember that she took a lot of time on her knees in front of me–her body growing hope, as she began to enter that uncomfortable third trimester. She washed my feet, trimmed my unkempt nails, and scrubbed my rough feet until they were soft again. Then she applied a festive color–a color of that didn’t reflect our inner lives, but one that seemed to point towards something new.
Sometimes, when we look back on that moment together, Karla expresses such gratitude for our friendship, and I feel a wave of discomfort thinking about that beautiful gesture of love. It’s the same feeling I get at our annual Maundy Thursday foot washing service. As a pastor, I’m comfortable to serve whoever comes to me, but to have someone help me stirs up feelings of exposure and vulnerability. I don’t want anyone’s help, and I certainly don’t want anyone to see my weakness or vulnerability. And that’s when control and anger take charge within me. If I control this Maundy Thursday service, it can’t penetrate me. If I am angry (at something, anything), I don’t have to think about feeling vulnerable.
This morning, I went for my first spring pedicure. I want my toes to look great with the Easter dress and peep toe heels on Sunday–at least that’s what I tell myself every year when I go. But, honestly, that’s control talking. The truth is I don’t want my feet to look bad at the foot washing service. I don’t want anyone to touch my scaly winter skin, or run their hands over my stiff, cracked heels, or see that I still have remnants of last summer’s color on my toenails. I don’t want anyone to see the true me. I don’t want anyone to see me as anything but strong and self sufficient. I fear any sign of vulnerability. And the Maundy Thursday service rips the bandage off my festering fears every year.
Yesterday in church we sang Will you let me be your Servant, a song that was a very important part of my wedding ceremony with Charlie twenty-two years ago. The first verse filled me again with fear and joy–
Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too.
The intention of this verse is my own. But the practice of it is another thing. And yet, I’m grateful for friends and partners that welcome my vulnerability, and that insist on it as a prerequisite for relationship. I’m grateful for this vulnerable practice every Holy week, a reminder of the lengths we must be willing to go to for each other as we follow Jesus to death and resurrection.