Humility and Cleaning Toilets

Humility and Cleaning Toilets

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” John 13:14

I consider the cleaning toilets an act of humility. It was lesson learned while living in intentional Christian community. Guests thought community life was a constant exploration of spiritual richness. The truth was we spent a lot of time cleaning. Turning over hotel rooms, mopping floors, doing dishes and cleaning toilets. 35 different toilets to be exact. It’s a messy job which often leaves you dealing with more body fluid than you care to think about.

It was for this reason some in our community got up in arms about hosting a group of men dying from AIDS. In 1986, AIDS was still new, the impact of it was just starting to hit the conscious of the culture. People got mad at the two pastors pushing for this event to happen. Neither one of them was going to be cleaning the toilets. That duty was left to us. As the confrontation grew, Peggy and I agreed to take complete responsibility for the hosting and caring of this group.

I drove into Harlem to pick the group up and bring them to camp. We provided some programming, but mostly it was just sitting and talking. The men were too weak to enjoy even a short hike in the woods. When it was over, I drove them home and returned to camp to clean the building and bathrooms.

Framing our life in terms of the Gospel helped me find meaning to our work. The story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples came to mind as I cleaned toilets on my hands and knees. This cleaning was an emotional experience. Honestly, I was concerned about direct contact with body fluids. At the same time, the joy of our time together was fresh in my mind. There was also a personal joy one can only discover in serving a neighbor in complete humility. Especially, when your neighbor is wounded and dying.

It feels good to recall an act of servitude. What I will not share with you are all the times I have been a complete jerk. Those experiences remain locked away in my soul where they constantly interrupt my desire for peace. Those experiences force me to confront my failure. Yet, this story helps me see hope even in the midst of failure.

Jesus washed the feet and fed an intimate group of friend who will completely fail him. He knows they will fail him and still he loves them. This story reminds me that Jesus loves me when I love and when I fail to love. It changes the act of loving from a chore to an invitation. Loving my neighbor is an invitation to discover a great joy. Failing to love is an invitation to discover healing. Embracing both helps us discover the life that is really life.

Click to read: John 13: 3-15

Reflection Questions:

  • When have you found life by serving in humility?
  • How does his compare to the times you have failed to love as you should?
  • In what ways can failure free you to discover healing?
  • What is the life that is really life in Christ?
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