I was setting up for a youth retreat in the heat of summer. All day, I had been back and forth between buildings, moving tables and chairs, bringing in supplies, and preparing the rooms where the teenagers would spend their weekend.

Because I am a think-ahead kind of woman, I had strategically chosen a pair of way-past-their-prime canvas tennis shoes to wear while I worked. I had also wisely decided to go without socks because, well, socks made your feet all the hotter. My old shoes already stunk, so what did a little more smell matter if it kept my feet cooler? Yes, I was thinking ahead and making all the right choices.

Until I stood outside the room where the opening worship service for the staff was going to take place. I looked at the front where fresh towels had been carefully placed beside washtubs of warmed water, and I suddenly remembered. Part of the dedication service for the weekend was a foot washing. I looked down at my dirty, stinky shoes, and my heart sank. How on earth was I going to take these shoes off and allow anyone to see the truth inside them?

I thought about faking illness or hiding, but I was one of the leaders of the retreat. My absence would be noticed, and any hint of illness would bring concern. People were taking their seats for the service. It was time. This was happening. There was nowhere to run.

Throughout the service, I kept anxiously looking around the room, wondering what poor soul would have to touch my feet. When people began to move forward to participate, what followed seem to be inevitable. It would be Katherine (name changed to protect the innocent) who was given the task of washing my filth.

Katherine, to me, was perfect. She was young, lovely, and gracious. She was sweet, kind, and soft-spoken. She had really, really pretty hair, which reminded me anew of what a hot mess I surely was from head to toe. As we moved towards the basins, I tried to think of how to apologize ahead of time. But it wasn’t time for talking. Music was softly playing, and people were experiencing connection with Jesus through worship and prayer. So I did the only thing there was to do. I took off my stinky shoes.

I half expected her to refuse. I certainly anticipated a gasp and wrinkling of her nose to communicate her displeasure. But instead, she bowed her head, picked up my dirty foot in one hand, and began to use her other hand to pour water down upon it. As she washed one foot and then the other, I saw a picture of my Lord in humble service to His friends (John 13), and my eyes filled with tears.

It’s been over twenty years since I had that experience. I have forgotten a lot of things that have happened to me over the last two decades. But, if anything, the memory of that night has grown stronger and more solidified in my heart. Katherine offered an act of Christian service to me that evening that changed my understanding of service. My feet were cleaner, but even more significant, the mercy of Jesus Christ had flooded my soul through His servant.


This post is chapter 2/6 of Spiritual Habits