One of the best blessings of having kids is the great books we read together. And though our kids are older, some books we read over and over because they are so special. Our favorite Lenten book is Journey to the Cross by Helen Haidle. Every day for forty days we take a step closer to the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Resurrection Sunday as we read through illustrated selections about the Easter story.
Today’s reading was about Jesus washing dirty feet—a lowly servant job no one ever volunteered to do. But He did. Not only did He volunteer to wash others’ dusty feet, He insisted when they objected.
Why would someone reject being served? Because it’s embarrassing to admit our need? Because it puts us in a vulnerable position? Is it fear?
Or is it because it’s easier to be the strong one, the together one, the one giving all the time? Is it really pride that keeps us from expressing our legitimate need and allowing others to help?
Or maybe the issue is more about serving than being served. In a me-focused world, why should I sacrifice my comforts—my schedule—to care for the less fortunate? Why should I volunteer to do anything that might cost me something? Isn’t it just easier to look the other way, pass by, or say “I’ll pray for you” when really a hug or a listening ear or a meal might mean more? Are we willing to get dirty in the mess of others?
Why serve? Why allow others to serve?
Because that’s what Jesus did. That’s what Jesus does.
He allowed a grateful forgiven woman to break an alabaster jar and wipe his feet with expensive perfume. She needed to serve Him and He knew her need. He didn’t deny her this one heart-felt gesture of thankfulness and love. And He gives us the pleasure of serving Him by serving others every day. He tells us that what we do for the least, we do for Him. And He tells us we’ll be blessed by giving. We’re blessed because it’s the heart of Christ swelling in us that kindles compassion flowing out to others. The heart of Christ beats life and love in us, causing us to transcend self-centeredness.
And when we allow others to serve us when we need, we allow others to experience being Christ-like to us. We know it’s an honor and a privilege—a blessing—when we are able to give to others. Would we deny others the same honor and privilege to give to us?
Serving goes both ways and reciprocity is not only okay but healthy. We all have needs. We all have something to give. Occupying both positions keeps us humble and outwardly focused—both the way we are supposed to be to function best and glorify God most.
Sometimes, the best thing for our spiritual growth is to NOT serve, but to allow ourselves to BE served.
Last summer, I found myself at the lowest point of my life. And I’ve had some very low points along the way—some horrible losses and betrayals that have nearly shattered me. But last summer was the darkest living nightmare of days I have ever experienced. Combination of some back-stabbing accusations from loved ones, a year-long struggle with a school district who refused to serve our daughter’s disabilities according to law, hiring an attorney—all on top of the high stress of trying to care properly for not just one but three children with a host of baffling but invisible disabilities—I felt like the birds who crash and die after flying full force into glass windows.
I didn’t know what hit me. Exhaustion? How much of it was my fault—not trusting God enough, not letting go enough? I didn’t know. But I do know that sometimes we are called to stand up against wrong. To fight against injustice. To defend the defenseless. To advocate for the powerless. That’s where I found myself, right alongside my husband. And he was experiencing profound stress also, just somewhat differently than I.
So one day—my darkest day—I just wanted to lie down and die—just so I could rest. Was I suicidal? No. But I really didn’t want to live another day either. I was beyond tired and I didn’t want to talk to or be with another soul.
“No. I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want—no, I can’t bear—to hear one more person give me advice about things they don’t know. I don’t want to hear how I just need to trust God more. I don’t want to hear how God is going to make everything okay in the end.”
Okay. I want to come up and just be with you. We don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to talk. We can walk the trails and if you want to talk that’s okay and I’ll just listen. I promise I won’t give you any advice. And, because I have a big mouth, if I start to, just tell me to shut up and I promise I will. I just want to be with you. I’ll be there in a half hour.
I cried and couldn’t stop. Was it possible to have a friend so dear that they would drop their very full life just walk with you and be with you in silence—standing by you when words would be so insufficient? Was it possible to have a friend love you so much that they would come and walk miles of trails and hear you pour out your heart struggle—your fears, your tears, your anger, your doubts—and measure their few words so prayerfully that they were like expensive perfume poured from an alabaster jar on tired, dusty, and cracked body, mind, and soul?
I felt it. I felt the incredible expense—the holy preciousness of love poured out that day. And only because I know this woman so well—I know her good intent—her humble recognition of how wrong she can be—her holy desire to love and serve—that’s why I let her into my darkest place.
She was Christ to me that day, washing my feet. And, like Peter with Jesus, I had tried so hard not to let her. I didn’t want anyone to see me—to really see me—in such a broken state. But I let her. I let God wash over me with her love and tender care and the holy aroma of alabaster jar perfume poured out and renewed me—restored me—made me ready to go back and serve.
I woke up early this morning to write the end of this piece. As I looked out the library doors, I saw a lifeless junco lying on the snow. She had hit the window wall hard. Poor thing.
I thought about just last summer. Yes, I had hit the wall of life hard. But by God’s grace, the wall wasn’t glass and I didn’t die from the crash. Stunned and hurting? Yes. Dead and lifeless? No. Just the opposite. Because of alabaster jar perfume poured, coming from a heart broken open to love—I felt strengthened and free to fly—restored and ready to serve, once again.
Postscript: This post highlights just one alabaster jar friend. What makes me among the richest women on earth is the fact that I have many alabaster jar friends. You know who you are. And my most abiding alabaster jar friend is my husband. Oh, the path we have walked together, often hobbling and leaning on each other for balance, but growing together through it all. And I know, because of your deep humility, you will not like me writing this for all to read but . . . oh well. Just had to say it anyway.
Gotta go find the Kleenex box . . . .