Monday, July 27, 2020

Modern-Day Foot Washing

As our world, and our churches, change in response to our changing world, we're having the opportunity to experience things we never could have imagined even six months ago. Churches all over the world have wrestled with how to safely continue meeting together when we know how vulnerable our own populations often are, and this has led to some...interesting...adaptations in the church. 

One of the adaptations that my own church made, for a season, was the institution of the "restroom attendant." One of the Restroom Attendant's duties was to clean and sanitize the restroom after each use. This meant that this person sat outside the restroom door throughout the church service, armed with sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer, and cleaned off every stall door, toilet, and sink after each use. 

Now, let me say that I once attended a youth rally in the church that had a different form of restroom attendant. When I needed to use the facilities in the middle of the hours-long event, this woman followed me out of the sanctuary and into the restroom and stood there trying to make conversation while I was trying to make...never mind. If this is your church, stop that immediately. No one in your worship service wants a stranger (or even a friend) following them into the restroom as standard practice. That's just creepy. 

But back to our new restroom attendants. My first thought was what a servant's heart it takes to accept this kind of position when your leadership asks you to take it. I know quite well the persons who accepted it in my congregation (a husband and wife), and I would absolutely say that the servant's heart thrives in them. I will also say that on that first restroom attended Sunday, there was a part of me that was glad my leadership didn't ask me. I would have done it. I could have done it. But I also had this overwhelming sense of just how awkward the whole thing was. 

Then I realized that sense of awkwardness was not because I was thinking about what it must be like to be the bathroom attendant. Actually, I was wrestling with what it meant to have to pee. 

There's this scene in the Gospels where Jesus is sharing an intimate moment with His disciples, one of the last that they would share before His crucifixion. And while they are busy arguing - again - about what it means to be awesome, Jesus quietly stood up, wrapped a towel around His waist, and knelt down to wash the feet of the men who had journeyed with him for three years of ministry. When He came to Peter, the disciple protested - No, Lord. You will never wash my feet. 

And that was exactly the gut reaction I was having to the bathroom attendant. No, friend. You will never sanitize my toilet. 

There was just something about having this kind of servant simply waiting, quietly, on the need to serve that really tested my own humility. (Spoiler alert: I didn't pass the test.) I'm not someone who likes to have others clean up after me. I'm not someone who leaves a mess that others would have to clean up. I'm the kind of person who has fixed leaky toilets in public bathrooms just as a courtesy to others and now...and now, someone has to go in and sanitize what I have just touched. There was nothing in that moment that I could do to avoid this. I could not leave that restroom without requiring it to be sanitized. My mere presence made it dirty, just as the act of walking soiled Peter's feet. And there was someone there waiting, willing, to clean it up. Not only was someone waiting to clean up the mess I wasn't even trying to make, but it was someone I love and someone I know loves me. 

Yeah, I felt like Peter. And it's a moment I have wrestled with for the weeks since. 

I want to think that I'm better than Peter, that I'm not as impetuous or as stubborn, but maybe I am. Maybe I am a little pig-headed and obstinate. Maybe I am a little too sure of my own ability to care for myself. 

I keep thinking about all the tender things Jesus wants to do for me, all the quiet moments that are coming. When He wipes away my tears. When He binds my wounds. When, yes, He washes my feet. And I wonder now how that's gonna go. Because this one encounter with something so strange as a restroom attendant has me wondering if I am the kind of disciple I thought I was or not. 

No, Lord. You will never sanitize my toilet. 

At first, I wondered if I would have been humble enough to be the servant if asked, if I would have accepted - without grumbling, with joy - the request to serve my brothers and sisters as the restroom attendant. But the longer I've thought about it, I've realized that my heart for service is the least of my concerns. What I really need to work on is my own humility. 

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