For some time I'd been praying to be more helpful to people. It was important to me to grow spiritually in this way. I thought I knew what I was praying for, but one of the answers to my prayer was to be shown what it means to be more helpful. Prayer doesn't leave us where it found us.
I had called a woman who'd made draperies and a bed cover for me to tell her the bed skirt didn't fit right. She agreed to fix it, but then called to say she couldn't do the job because her mother-in-law required immediate and intensive care. I certainly felt compassion for her, but at that point I was thinking more about myself - about how I had a problem to solve without having the skills to do so. It was all about me.
That's when the message that I needed came. It was an unexpected answer to my prayer. I realized that helping people is far more than doing nice things when I can. Real caring requires me first to silence the self-importance and the self-will that rivet my thought on myself. Then I'm free to see other people's needs and to help them. To me this is foot-washing Christianity.
There's a Tintoretto painting in our local art center that depicts the Bible story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet, but the scene is in a wealthy Venetian home instead of in the humble setting one might expect. During the meal, the Bible says, Jesus got a basin and towel and began to wash their feet (see John 13:4-17). Earlier, the disciples had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. I think the artist, in contrasting the wealthy setting and Jesus' humble service of foot-washing, was saying: Don't get so involved with the things of the world that you forget this all-important caring for each other that Jesus taught.
Washing someone else's feet probably seems like one of those jobs you'd rather not do. But each of Jesus' messages is clearly important. For me, foot-washing is a metaphor for serving, caring for, blessing, or cherishing each other. To do this often requires silencing the "me-firsts" lurking within us. And that may be a lot harder than washing dirty feet!
I learned a lesson about foot-washing the day I talked with my draperymaker. As soon as I hung up the phone, I knew immediately that what was most important was helping this woman in some way. I called her back and shared what I knew about God that might comfort her. We talked about how caring for her mother-in-law was a great service, an act of love, and how God would sustain her in that work. And we talked about how she could trust God to take care of her family. She was doing what was right, and that couldn't deprive her family of income they required. God would care for each of them, meeting their needs perfectly. She told me how she'd seen God's love and care in her life many times before.
I felt our talk was really heart to heart. I was truly grateful to have my own heart's hardness exposed and melted and to have the opportunity to comfort this woman when she clearly needed it. I believe that God speaks to us all the time, because He loves us. Christ is God's message of truth and love, coming to give us guidance or to purify our motives. The Christ comes to show us whatever is needed for us to be more like God made us to be. These Christly messages move us out of selfishness and fear and enable us to express God's love.
So why is foot-washing important? I think it's important because it requires me to do something that really matters and really satisfies - to help someone else.
Christ is the true idea
voicing good, the divine
message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness. The Christ is incorporeal, spiritual, - yea,
the divine image and likeness, dispelling the illusions of the senses; the Way, the Truth,
and the Life, healing the sick
and casting out evils, destroying
sin, disease, and death.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor