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.
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.”