Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt awkward. (Can you see us waving back at you? We get it.) In today’s post, Leslie Nunn Reed on the BELONG Tour staff shares a timely story that reminds us of a friend who said, “Inappropriate laughter is my favorite emotion.”

I remember the first time: I slipped my feet into the basin of warm water. In the dimmed glow…and the quiet…the immediate, uncomfortable rush of awkwardness and vulnerability flooded me. I worried if my feet smelled…if I had remembered to shave my legs…if this exercise in humility would end soon.  It really was almost too much to bear.

Though the woman kneeling on the floor in front of me was my friend, I found it so hard to receive her gift of service. We were gathered with a group from church participating in a foot-washing service on the Thursday before Good Friday—remembering the unexpected provision that Jesus offered to his friends. This practice was new to me; I didn’t grow up in a tradition that did this kind of thing. We were much more about simple Palm Sunday mentions and hunting for Easter baskets before church, topped off by a festive brunch and egg hunt.

So why this agony as I sat there—as she’s washing my feet and gently drying them? She did not hurry to get it over with.  She did not rush. She took the same care as she had in the past year when we whispered to one another untold secrets—and spilled our pains and disappointments about some of life’s great hurts. In those moments I felt accepted and received. In this one—for some reason—I felt embarrassed. Ashamed. Exposed.

Maybe that’s just the point.

When I washed my friend’s feet, I didn’t experience this discomfort or anxiety. I was demonstrating a deep care for her with no thought of smelly odors or chipped pedicure polish. Just gratitude for her friendship and a desire to serve. I was much more comfortable doing the washing than the other way around.

The next time I do this it’s eight years later. I’m in a new state and newly engaged. Hoping for a meaningful experience with my fiancé, his mom, my parents and my sister, I convince them to come with me to a foot-washing service at the church around the corner (where it turns out, I’d get married a couple months later). They had no idea what I was dragging them into, but were open-hearted and came along.

The basins were filled. We each took our turns. I didn’t sense the same angst…until after a short break and we were invited to remember the last supper.

I loved seeing the faces standing around the table: Young and old. Tired and bright. Black and white. Known and unknown. The instructions were simple:

  1. Tear off a small piece of bread and pass the loaf to your neighbor
  2. Dip the end of your piece of bread into the cup of wine as it’s passed.

When a plucky young girl ahead of us dunked her bread in the cup, she dropped the entire piece in. We watched—amazed—as she stuck her whole hand in there to fish it out!

My mom and soon-to-be-husband started to lose it. They were trying desperately not to laugh. It wasn’t working. From the looks in my family’s eyes, it was clear we all were wondering: Did she wash her hands (like we had done at the break) after she washed the feet? What do we do now with our pieces of bread? Do we dip them in? Do we walk away? Do we miss the meaning of the moment because we’re obsessed with being sanitary and convention and rules??

As we made our way back to our seats, the emotion did not dissipate. Instead, the pew started shaking from the stifled laughter. My dad and I shot looks down the row hoping to restore decorum. Fat chance.

When she could breathe again at the end of the night, my mom shared her thought, “If I put my hand across my brow, people will think I’m moved, and praying, and have a lot of emotion going on.” Instead, she started snorting laughing!

The chaos. The disruption. The distraction. The germs. The insecurities. The shame. All of it . . .

Washed clean.