I wrenched my back last spring. I don’t know how I did it, but certain movements sent firebolts of pain down my spine. I couldn’t even lean over to put on socks, it felt like shards of glass radiating from my hips to my toes. For three months I slipped bare feet into comfortable loafers.
[Click here to listen to this article in your podcast app, with added commentary]
My mother is ninety-five, and several years ago she has lost control of a couple fingers, which means she can’t clip her own fingernails. Last June, she asked me to take her to the nail salon for a trim.
As I waited for my mom’s technician to finish, the receptionist asked me if I wanted my toenails trimmed. I stared at her in wonder. How did she know? I snuck a peek at my shoes to see if my neglected toenails were slicing their way out, like Wolverine’s claws. It had been twelve weeks since their last sharpening. Without thinking, I said, “Sure.”
She directed me to a row of thrones in the back of the salon. After I eased myself up a couple steps, a technician removed my shoes, put my feet in a tub, and turned-on warm water. I asked about the water, and she said it just softened the nails. I thought, “Do my nails looks like they’re made of hardened steel?”
I got distracted by an email, and before my consciousness returned, she had poured scented soap in the water, reached out, grabbed an ankle, and was massaging my feet—even between my toes—with a foot-shampoo that smelled like my mother’s flower garden.
I nervously glanced around to check for witnesses, and three women across from me—perched on thrones of their own—smiled knowingly. I have never been so mortified in my life, except for that one time….
But I’m not going to tell you that story today. One humiliation at a time.
I’d Rather Wash Yours
There was a time in the mid 70’s when foot-washing was a popular spiritual practice. On multiple occasions, a high school group I belonged to celebrated community-life with foot-washing ceremonies. College-aged leaders washed the feet of a few high schoolers, while the rest of us sang songs about knowing we are Christians by our love.
One leader approached me and offered to wash my feet. I told him I’d rather wash his. He said that honor was reserved for the college teammates who were leading, not the high schoolers they were serving. I told him to pick [to pick on] someone else.
The nail technician used a scouring stone to scrape away at the callouses on my feet, and she massaged my arches and calves, anointed my feet with scented oils, and hand dried even my toes. Then she hacked away at my toenails with a chainsaw. I kept looking around to see if any modern high schooler was going to publicly post this boomer’s mortification to Tik Tok.
I wholly understand Peter’s refusal to let Jesus wash his feet. My whole soul was awash in shame.
The Real Heroes
On His last night on earth, Jesus is desperate to express His purpose for coming. There are a thousand different things He could have done—from raising an infant from the grave, to freeing innocent prisoners, to preaching a sermon on love—but He chooses to wash feet.
On that last night, Jesus said, “My entire life is about one thing. It’s not about miracles or doctrine, and it’s not even about tolerance, which isn’t real love. My life is about washing feet.”
We want to rescue sex slaves, battle poverty, or fetch the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West; to do some great deed on this earth. There is even a resurgence among believers who claim that “Christianity is about washing feet.” But it isn’t. It’s about having our feet washed.
Jesus said to Peter, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you have no part of me.”
Christianity is the spiritual reality that declares our greatest single need is not to do great deeds but to let Jesus do them for us, to let Him be honored not us; to let Him be the Hero.
It is spiritual fraud to proudly proclaim to the world, “I have come to wash your feet,” when our own feet stink.
The nail technician laboring over my Wolverine spikes sensed my abject disgrace. She said that twenty-five percent of her customers are men. “Not the men I hang around with,” I said. She offered a treatment unreservedly devoted to the masculine world. I asked what it was.
She said, “Come back next tomorrow, and I’ll give you a Man-icure.”
Mary Beth Wenger
Your post gave me a good chuckle. But also some great reflections on our roles as children of God—always needing Him to live His life in us, serving through us. Allowing Him to minister to us through His Spirit and through each other.
A friend begged me to go to a nail salon with her, and while I in the end enjoyed the experience, I felt similar discomfort and shame. Someone washing my calloused feet and trimming my raggedy toe nails. Someone from another ethnicity serving me, a white woman, in a world I have come to see as so inequitable from the moment we step into it. Serving me. So much more comfortable being in a position of giving/serving. Yet in that position is the power too.
Power/powerless. Higher/lower. Honor/shame. Pride. Autonomy/interdependence. Worth…value…being loved…loving. A simple act like foot washing can bring so much to the surface. What is that discomfort we feel? What is at the root? What does Holy Spirit want to point out in our lives and cleanse under the blood of Jesus? Washing our feet daily after we have been washed in the blood at new birth?
Hi Mary Beth,
Thanks for your wonderful thoughts.
I wonder if there are levels of humility. There is the first level of being humble enough to bow before another and wash their feet. And there is another level that accepts the absolute desperate need of our hearts to have someone wash ours.
We need the desperate humility that cries to God of our need.
I see His offer as the Rabbi Himself. Whom Peter knew as the Moshiach, the One who had told them ‘you have me so have seen G-d, doing what the lowest of servants ONLY Di – wash the feet of people who had arrived, their feet covered with the dust & detritus of the ‘roads’ then. So if G-d Himself can be THAT humble, what is stopping you – a SERVANT of His??!!
There is a pride in us that refuses to admit our desperately hopeless situation without His grace.
We can even be proud of our simply humility, but we need the humility to say, “I can do nothing.
To me it’s both funny and sad that men sometimes have such a hard time allowing themselves to just enjoy a treatment like the pedicure you obviously so badly needed! I encourage you (and everyone!) to let God love you in gentle ways. I know receiving can be hard. But it gives Him pleasure to give. We don’t have to always be strong, tough, and together. Which I guess is the point of your post.
If I may, let me sum up your comment: “Men are idiots!”
(At least this one is 🙂 )
A wonderfully relatable, self-deprecating, article. Made me laugh!
We Americans are just simply too prideful and independent. Oh, and deserving, too!
Unfortunately, we also forget that God’s measurements are not at all like ours. We worry too much about what others think of us, which is why we can so easily become defensive and embarrassed. God help us be willing to be embarrassed for the right reasons. We are to serve others, but firstly His church. If we truly are unselfish and busy working to fulfill the next to greatest commandment, we will draw unbelievers to Christ like moths to a flame.
Thanks! And I am so glad I made you laugh.
Great post, Sam.
I had not thought about that context for the story before.
We have to be humble … Jesus said to Peter, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you have no part of me.”
Clearly, I missed a “key piece” earlier in this story.
Sounds like “Physician Heal thyself “.
Thanks ?? Sam
Love this message … “Christianity is the spiritual reality that declares our greatest single need is not to do great deeds but to let Jesus do them for us, to let Him be honored not us; to let Him be the Hero.
It is spiritual fraud to proudly proclaim to the world, “I have come to wash your feet,” when our own feet stink.”’
Thanks for commenting, and you highlighted my own favorite sentences.
We are so quick to do, all the while we forget our need of Him to do it through us.
I enjoyed your painful, humiliating, mortifying visit by the manicurist. I scrunched up my eyes and felt I was sucking on a lemon. The lesson was good as well. To let Jesus be the hero.
Sam, I found this message so profound. I have never ever thought of the story in this light. I always thought of Jesus humbling himself and being a servant Etc. But I didn’t think about our shame and being willing to allow him to cleanse us.
BTW, Suz’s daughter Sarah and her husband washed each other’s feet as a part of their wedding ceremony in 2020.!!
(Another BTW: I always love your sense of humor in your articles, never fails to make me smile!)
From your cousin Liz
THANKS! So glad you enjoy my humor. But … it’s probably your humor too. After all, we ARE related 🙂
Oh my goodness, so good, Sam! Aside from several laughs out loud, you provided me with such powerful insights to a familiar passage. Grateful, as always, for your unique gifting.
I love it when you comment.
I especially love it when you like my humor!