On Sunday, two seemingly unrelated events came together in what turned out to be a timely lent lesson for me. I was an assistant for children's church and our lesson was about the final hours Jesus spent with his disciples. To their surprise, Jesus dresses down like a servant and starts washing their feet. Peter can hardly take it and protests, You can't wash my feet! But Jesus reminds Peter, If you don't let me wash you, you can have no part of me. After the lesson, my teaching partner and I washed the feet of each child in our class. This came as a surprise to them too.
I mean, it is February, right? Few of us have feet that are ready for public display right now. But one young lady seemed extra shy. She actually covered her toes with her hand while my teaching partner washed and I dried the small area she left partially exposed. Perhaps it was due to a weird nail, or a wart, or a rash. Who knows? But obviously she felt it was too ugly or embarrassing to let us see. We didn't make a big deal of it, yet I noted that her embarrassment mirrored Peter, who couldn't stand the thought of Jesus washing his unsightly places.
Later, in church, members of our middle school youth group were called up front to share thoughts on their recent retreat, the theme of which was 1 Timothy 4:12: "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for believers in speech, faith, life, love, and purity."
The congregation was asked if someone would pray for our middle schoolers. A pretty college-aged girl whom I had never seen before (I'll call her 'Heather') stood up. She took the microphone and began to pray, "Father, I bring before you these young people, and I want to specifically pray for your protection on them and their sexual purity... because this is an area where I fell." She continued on, but I was stuck on her last words.
Wait. Did she just say that out loud? Did we just experience a 'three-in-one' moment of confession, repentance, and intercessory prayer pressed together? In church? It was both surprising and stunning. I don't remember the rest of her prayer, her bold public admission turning over in my mind. The middle schoolers filed back to their seats, and our pastor walked to the front. The sermon title printed on the bulletin was 'atonement'... divided up to help make sense of the word: At-one-ment. Once we've been separated from God by sin, how might we get back to 'at-one-ness' with God? Before beginning his sermon, he addressed Heather:
Heather, you said, in your prayer about sexual purity, "I fell." And behind that is pain. It is in the darkness and in things unconfessed that Satan does his work. But today, Satan just got defeated. And this is exactly how God works. He takes our weakness and He leverages it for glory.
See, Heather did the opposite of the girl in children's church. Actually, Heather did the opposite of most of us. She pulled the sock right off of what some might consider a particularly dirty and smelly sin, and presented it- fully exposed- for Jesus to wash. She didn't hide the cracked nail or the ugly bunion or the misshapen big toe. Despite her youth, she understands that Jesus is both capable and willing to clean exactly these kinds of places. In doing so, she got rid of Satan's foothold. He has no place to stand there in her life anymore because she confessed it, repented it, and even interceded on behalf of others. We are sometimes quick to confess our impatience or our pride, but we tend to scandalize and hide the 'fleshy' sins. This gives Satan an easy perch in those areas. Heather was done giving him any more real-estate in her life.
When people say they love God but don't go to church, I realize they don't understand what church is. They've been led to believe (often by hurtful experiences) that church is the place where we cover up our sins and weaknesses and put on multiple layers of socks so no one can see how dirty our feet are. In contrast, Heather did not let her youth stop her from stepping up in front of a church full of people and teaching us an important lesson. In true 1st Timothy fashion, she set an example for believers in faith, teaching us that church can indeed be a place to expose such areas (ones hard to bare for public viewing) to the Light. It's only then that Jesus can start washing.
Lauren Winner writes, "When God says He is coming to clean up our lives, our instinct is to tell him to wait until we have cleaned up our own lives." But Lent is a good time to remember that we can't do it ourselves. As horrified as Peter was (and as we are) that Jesus wants to wash our smelliest and dirtiest places, it is only through His washing that we can get back to 'at-one-ment' with God. During Lent, let's be honest with ourselves and with Jesus. Let's present our dirt, completely and not partially, to the only One who can wash us. Then, like Heather, our weakness can be leveraged for glory.