Last year, I decided I wanted to wash my children's feet. I got a bowl, soap, towels, and lotion and then read my kids a passage from the gospels on foot washing.
I started with my older children, 13 and 10 years old at the time. They both thought I was a little crazy and spent quite a bit of time trying to talk me out of it. One of my older kiddos strongly protested. "Mom, don't do it. I should wash your feet. I've been really bad all day and really rude to you." I told them I would be willing to wait however many hours I needed until they were ready, so I sat down on the floor and waited as they sat on the couch continuing with their protest.
After several minutes, they plopped their feet in the water. "Ok mom, get this over with." So I started washing, praying for their feet (which they all snickered at) and the places God takes those feet each and every day. I quoted some scriptures of God's promise to light their path and order their steps.... Dried them off and put some lotion on them.
Here is how the first convo went:
So we had a beautiful conversation about how God's discipline is often gentle and kind....because that is how amazing his grace is. I listened to the words coming out of my mouth realizing how rarely I myself thought about Gods discipline through that lens. I relate very much to my kiddo: receiving unmerited grace is often quite uncomfortable and I too find myself protesting far too often.
Similarly, Peter protested to Jesus, "Lord, are you going to was my feet? No! You shall never wash my feet."
I imagine Jesus knelt down and wrapped his hands around Peters' feet. Peter, sensing the warm hands of his friend, brother, teacher, Lord must have breathed out deeply and relaxed a little into his chair. The first instinct that roared within him to resist this act of love quickly melted into a hunger for more, "then don't just wash my feet! But my hands and my head as well!" Once you have tasted this unmerited, undeserved kindness, grace, and mercy everything within you longs for more.
After my first child's turn was over, I cleaned out the water and said it was time for my next child. This one never lets anything phase them. "Mom, this is so stupid." She crossed her arms, rolled her eyes, and seemed to ignore my prayers and the scripture I quoted while I washed. I wasn't really sure what was going on so I just continued to do the same process I had just done. Then, she broke down crying. This fierce little gal who rarely articulated with words what was going on in her heart and mind began to pour out to me with words what she was thinking, feeling, and worried about.
I also resonated with her reaction. God's grace and mercy does a lot of different things. Too often, I only allow my reflection on God's grace to spark images of a court room: forgiven from a debt, or pardoned from punishment. While that's not insignificant, my daughter’s reaction reminded me that at the center of God's grace and kindness is a deep relational love that affects us in multiple ways. Sometimes his grace acts as soothing aloe to old wounds. Sometimes as you steep in God's kindness it often brings to the surface deep heartache. The gift of being served, of being loved, and being known is that it creates safety and freedom to lament, mourn, and cry out to our Father. Like my beautiful daughter, I also find myself minimizing my need for it.
It's easy to resist the very need I have for this grace that provides space to sit in sorrow and joy. This kindness from God sometimes asks me to sit and not move too quickly to figure out my idols or sin, but to sit and steep in God's kindness in the midst of messiness and brokenness.
Think of Job sitting in God's presence covered in sackcloth and ashes. Hannah weeping in the temple so loudly that Eli thought she was a drunk. Paul begging God three times for the thorn to be removed from his flesh. Jesus, also three times, begging for the cup to pass from him. If there is any other way, let the cup pass, let the weakness be removed.
This is often hard to do because the messiness of our broken world is complicated. Moving quickly to identifying the root cause of our heartache or trying to figure out how to avoid it happening again often places blame in simplistic ways. Some types of sin, some aspects of brokenness just aren't simple. Sitting in the mess means allowing ourselves to be uncomfortable with unanswered questions and unsolved problems.
And it's not just the big stuff of life, too often we miss the gift of God's love being lavished on us in the midst of the smallest heartache or smallest sin that needs not to be ignored, but also does not need condemnation. What it desperately needs is to be washed by our Beloved.
I finished up with my 10 year-old and finally it was my 5 year-old's turn and he was almost bouncing off his seat. I thought watching the reactions of his older siblings he would also resist, but he just couldn't wait. He put his feet in the warm water and let out a long "ahhhhhhhhh" and got a giant smile on his face. "Mommy, this feels sooooooooooooo good!"
As I started the same process I did with his other two siblings, he just kept smiling and over and over said "thank you mommy... Thank you... Thank you...." He soaked up every minute of it and at the very end he says,
That phrase has stuck with me. He didn't say "I love you" or "after all you just did, I want to love you more." He didn't express guilt for the tantrum he threw a few hours before and say, "I want to obey you always because your so good to me."
He simply leaned back, soaked in the love, and delighted in being loved.
That was the simple sweet childlike faith of a 5-year old who has only known a life of safety, acceptance, and praise. Growing up changes us. Just a few years from now, he will have experienced more wear and tear of this world.
What does it look like to experience this type of liberating freedom that allows us to sit back and enjoy God's love? Lets breath in Jesus and the love, grace, and mercy he pours into us. Let's allow the sweet gift of his grace to wake us up from our natural inclination to share in Peter's honest protest and instead let’s settle into our chair and relax into God. How do we, with 5-year old childlike faith, sit back, put our hands behind our head, and with a giant smile say, "ahhh... It feels so good to be loved by you."