The first time I washed my mother’s feet, my feet were cold, too. We weren’t a touchy family. Not much hugging. Never any kissing. Then as she aged, she also grew, to be honest, a bit grouchy. So, I grew grouchy in return. Our relationship strained. Two imperfect people struggling to stay connected – that was us. Finally, I prayed. Help me to love my mother — love her better, love her right. Then God answered. Wash her feet.
But what did that mean — and would it make the difference?
I ponder that question today – on this Maundy Thursday – because it’s foot-washing day in God’s church. Maundy is that odd word springing from the Latin, mandatum, which means commandment. Thus, Jesus’s command, spoken at the Last Supper, puts context on His humble washing — as perfect God — of His imperfect disciples’ feet. As He told them:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Yet He knew this command would be hard. I barely could drive to a Walgreens to pick out a footbath for my mother without doubting my errand. Instead, I fussed over my struggle – worrying I couldn’t love my mother right because I’d failed in the past, not just with her, but in so many other ways in life.
Then Jesus stepped in — thank God He does. So, with Him, I made it to the drugstore and picked out the footbath and Epsom salts. Placing them in a cart by faith, I saw a little light turn on. It was Jesus’ reminder that I already loved my mother; I’d just forgotten why.
I loved her not because she was warm and touching and knowing with me. Most times, she wasn’t. But I loved her, first, because she taught me of Jesus, and His love covers every human failing, including my own.
But Mama did even more. She took the streetcar every day with her widowed mother to a fancy house on the other side of town, and she scrubbed floors. She polished sinks and chopped vegetables and washed and starched and ironed other people’s clothes.
Then she took her earnings from the cooking and serving and washing and ironing, and she went to college. She forged a life that led her to my Dad. Then the two of them, working day and night, granted me a lifetime of relative comfort, even before I appreciated it. Yet I reaped the benefits.
I took the piano lessons and kids’ cooking classes and enjoyed birthday parties with gifts and cake and balloons. As a girl, I slept in the new brick house – in my own bedroom – after she and Daddy fought for our right to move into the Denver suburb that tried to keep our family out. I took summer vacations to Disneyland and Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon and the Atlantic Ocean, snapping photos with my own Instamatic, dressed in brand-new summer pedal pushers and tops, bought by Mama on layaway, announcing to the world that I was treasured in the eyes of my hard-working parents.
Then to balance it all, she taught me life’s best basics: how to write thank-you notes and dress a table and greet passing strangers and hug necks and take food to funerals and iron clean sheets for a great night’s rest.
So, I loved Mama. It’s that simple. I knew she loved me, too, even if it wasn’t her style to say it.
Therefore, many years later, I followed Jesus and went to Walgreens. That evening, I kneeled at my mother’s feet, easing her weary legs into the warm water. She closed her eyes, sighing.
Then imperfect me washed her amazing feet. For an old person’s feet, Mama’s were kind of cute, in fact. She got regular pedicures and, at age eighty-eight, wore frosted orange toenail polish.
“I love that color, Grandma,” my daughter told her that day. Mama grinned. Then Mama lifted her legs, pointed her feet, and wiggled her toes, showing off her orange polish, and we all laughed together.
And that’s how to love, Jesus said. Love with action, knowing it first looks like this: a bloodstained cross.
So, Jesus knew about foot-washing. To do it right, you have to go down to the floor, to kneel there. You go low. Then looking up, from the grungy sadness of the other person’s aching feet, what do you see?
You see gratitude. You see trust. You’re also humbled. Then when we obey His command, our foot-washing shows Who we all need most in an imperfect world: our perfect soul-washing God.
Love with action, knowing it first looks like this: a bloodstained cross. -@PatriciaRaybon : Click To Tweet