Parenting Series: Learning to Wash Feet In Every Season
March 24, 2021
I remember the moment, 22 years ago, in the NICU when the nurse began to ask my husband and I basic questions about infant care as they proceeded to process our release papers. I quietly nodded in affirmation, but inside my anxiety grew. I had never raised a tiny human before. What did I know?
It was the first of many humbling moments along this parenting adventure.
The first time we tried to bathe him was sweet, slightly comical, and also unnerving. Devin screamed. His bladder emptied. Jason and I panicked. In restrospect, it should have been a simple task. We were grown people capable of bathing a 5 pound infant, but in that moment the responsibility and desire to do it right seemed bigger than life. His cry broke our hearts.
How is it that such small creatures have such a powerful and humbling ability to make grown men and women quiver in their boots?
The Humility of Christ
This is the way God chose to enter the world – to make Himself known and show His compassion for the plight of mankind.
I can’t imagine a better picture of humility outside of Christ’s work on the cross than the responsibility to parent and care for tiny souls made in the image of God.
To wash tiny feet in tenderness and love.
From the toll a new life takes on a mother’s body between conception to delivery, the sleepless nights when children need fed, calmed, or waited up for, to the service of feeding, bathing, educating, enjoying, and dreaming on their behalf, the very nature of this monumental task is sacrificial.
Yet, the day-to-day moments often seem mundane and tiresome, and we lose the wonder of the miraculous gift of life.
We joyfully wash those precious feet at the beginning. But they don’t stay tiny for long, do they? While our children grow in independence and learn to wash their own stinky feet, it’s easy to lose the humility Christ demonstrates to all of His children at every age and maturity level.
Serving in Every Season
There are many phases of childhood that stretch grown adults to the max. While many love the infant stage, others are thrown into depression through sleep fatigue. Toddlers throw fits and try to assert their natural bent toward independence without understanding all the rules of their world. Elementary-aged children are ripe with curiosity and can weaken the strongest of adults under an endless supply of questions. The middle school years? Traumatic is a good word to describe this often awkward in-between place for growing minds and bodies. Moving into the teen years often introduces a whole new level of independence and a slow maturity into adulthood. As I am learning these days, letting go is a lesson in meekness that doesn’t come naturally to us after leading them for 18 years.
Yes, parenting is a humbling journey. We become parents with a lot of our own baggage strapped to our backs. I often wonder why God would entrust us with such a responsibility as we only get one go around and we are often lacking the patient kindness we need to love them like Christ. And then I remember sin, the fall, and God’s plan for redemption, and I know it was never supposed to be this hard. Thankfully, He equips those who know and seek Him (2 Peter 1:3). His grace is sufficient.
What does a humble parent look like?
Let’s look at Christ’s example to His followers in John 13.
“He rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
Parents are to “wash” their children’s feet at every age and stage. We are to follow the example Christ showed by doing tasks for the benefit of others out of service and love. While we know we are serving them out of duty, there are times duty steals the joy from loving service. And kids are aware of this. It doesn’t mean we will enjoy every act of service required as a parent…math homework, cleaning up puke, etc. Washing dirty feet is not glamorous, but it does remind us of our attitude toward those we serve. If Jesus bent low to do a servant’s less-than-ideal job, I believe He would desire for us to not lord over our kids but to LEAD with kindness and gentle humility.
It is easy to begin to think that as adults we are above serving children who are learning to be self-sufficient.But ability is not the deciding factor as shown by Christ washing grown men’s feet. It is love. The agape type of love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13. As we imitate Christ, we teach them to do some washing of their own toward us, others, and ultimately, God.
Developing a meek spirit
Meek parents must depend on God and seek His wisdom.
Meek parents must be willing to serve children who are, at times, hostile and unlovable. Just as we are often towards God.
Meek parents must be willing to sacrifice their own wants and desires for the ultimate good of someone else; not the whims and desires of their children, but for their overall wholeness.
Meek parents must be able to acknowledge their failings and apologize and seek forgiveness. Every adult will fail a child at some point and the way of humility leads to repentance. Strength in God’s economy comes from bending low.
It is easier to cuddle a baby than a teenager at times, even so, we are to continue to serve and bend low in humility no matter what age our kids are. It takes more work and intentionality to stay connected as they grow, but deep down they long for it.
If you have noticed resentment creeping up over serving your children, now is the time to capture those thoughts and repair unhealthy attitudes. God calls children a blessing and not a burden. If we have lost sight of that, something needs to be readjusted. I John 1:9 is one breath, one humble prayer away. If your children are only taking and not serving, some lessons need to be reinforced repeatedly. Those who are served with kindness have a much greater shot at becoming kind servant-leaders as well.
How will you make every effort to lead your children with humility this week? In what ways can you wash some feet where you have often refused to?