James, my 15-year old autistic son, gets cold feet… Sometimes this is because he often prefers to go barefoot, sometimes this is because his blood circulation isn’t as good as it might be, or maybe it’s a combination of the two.
He likes to have his feet rubbed, to warm them up, but recently he has also enjoyed having his feet immersed in a bowl of warm soapy water, and washed. The sensory feeling of having his feet in the warm water is really enjoyable, and having us washing his feet with a flannel tickles and is fun… the floor sometimes gets a wash too, as do we!
As I wash James feet, there is another thing going on as well; I am serving James as I wash his feet, being like a servant to him. I might be his Dad, he might look up to me in many ways and (sometimes!) do what I ask him to, but in that moment I am on my knees washing his feet, serving his needs.
To me, it reminds me that a vitally important part of my role as James’ Dad is to meet his needs, to do whatever needs to be done to help him. To be willing to put down whatever I think of as ‘important’ in that moment, whether that is work, church, whatever, and to wash his feet.
Some of you will be aware that my role at Urban Saints has changed recently; I used to be Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Urban Saints, with responsibility for the day-to-day operational running of this national children’s and youth ministry. Alongside that, for several years, God led me and enabled me to build up the additional needs ministry area within the organisation, helping children’s, youth and families workers, among others, to reach out to, include, and create places of belonging for everyone.
This is now my full-time role; I put down my COO role in August and am fully focused on the additional needs ministry role… and I’m loving it! I feel like God has called me to be a servant to others in this area, to meet their needs, to do whatever I can to make a difference… metaphorically, I’ve been called to serve, to wash feet.
As I wash James’ feet I see the joy on his face through the connection we have; he chuckles and laughs, he delights in what we are doing and in the trust and relationship that we have. When I spend time with others helping them to think about how to be more inclusive in their church or group, how to create places of belonging for all the children and young people they are working with, and how to disciple them in their faith, I see joy and delight in their eyes too… we build trust and relationship together, and we have a laugh as well!
In John 13:1-17, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet… He serves them, he ministers to them, he guides them in their understanding. He says to them “I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet. So you also should wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you. What I’m about to tell you is true. A slave is not more important than his master. And a messenger is not more important than the one who sends him. Now you know these things. So you will be blessed if you do them.” (v14-17 NIrV)
As I wash James’ feet, God teaches me humility and servanthood; as I spend time helping children’s, youth and families workers to be inclusive, that humility and servanthood is the attitude I try to adopt and encourage others to take. We work together to see change happen… to serve, to wash feet. Because when we’re on our knees washing feet it’s hard to feel self-important, it’s hard to feel superior, it’s hard to consider ourselves ‘better’ than the person we’re serving. We put their needs first, they are the focus, this is the most important role for us in that moment, nothing else matters. We meet their needs, we change, we don’t expect them to.
Whether as you read this you are a parent with a child with additional needs, or you work with children, young people or families where there are additional needs present, let us all metaphorically roll our sleeves up, get a bowl of warm soapy water, get down on our knees adopting an attitude of servanthood as Jesus himself showed us, and wash some feet together….
And as you do so, look up at the face of the child or young person you are serving, you might just catch a glimpse of Jesus smiling back at you…
27th September 2017
Image rights: Authors own and James Pruch