Back in the day, it was customary hospitality to offer guests water to wash their feet after they had walked in sandals on dusty roads, but the host would never be the one who did the washing. A servant maybe, but never the host.
Thus, it was astonishing to the disciples of Jesus, their host at Passover table, that he got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin and began to wash their feet. Why did he do it? So that they would know and teach others that true greatness lies, not in focusing on your own self-importance, but in serving others. “If I have washed your feet,” he said, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
In our day, self-centeredness and self-promotion have become the accepted way to be in this world. Success is defined in terms of fame and achieving positions of power. We are led to believe that we will be happy if can buy a new car or cruise the Caribbean, or put Corian counter tops in the kitchen; but none of that actually does the trick for very long.
The hardest thing to do in life, I think, is to know what we truly want. Here is the funny thing: If happiness is your goal, you will never find it. Happiness comes as a consequence of getting caught up in something greater than ourselves. Happiness comes in getting over yourself, in not being driven by envy or pride or selfish ambition. The great Albert Schweitzer once delivered a graduation speech to an auditorium full of young people in which he said, “I do not know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
I think about our own Captain Herb Emory, who last week tried to help out at the scene of a car accident near his home and had a fatal heart attack in the process. For decades, he had helped us avoid traffic nightmares, if he could, and talked us through them when he could not. He cared about us. He had found a way to serve.
I think of a prominent Atlanta CEO whom I asked one time what his life ambition was. He answered, “I want the people who work for our company to be able to live, good, whole, and happy lives.” He had found a way to serve.
I think of the hundreds of Atlantans who regularly volunteer at foot clinics for people who are homeless in our community. Most of the guests have been walking around all day in previously worn shoes that had ended up in the shoe bin at a clothes closet, and so their feet are usually in pretty bad shape.
Here is what the volunteers do. They take their place at the feet of the guest. They wash the guest’s feet, and then dry them with a soft, warm towel. They cut nails and trim callouses and bunions. Finally, they massage the feet with lotion. I understand that Vick’s Vapor Rub works wonderfully as well. Sometimes, the guest being served will weep. It’s been a long time since anyone has touched them with kindness, or for that matter, has touched them at all.
Foot washing isn’t for everybody, but really and truly, the happiest among us will always be those who have found a way to serve.
Right now would be the perfect time to find the towel with your name on it.
– Joanna M. Adams