Friday, April 14, 2017

Cleaning Up Messes

I have been giving confirmation classes recently and I was trying to explain the sacraments. Some churches say there are 7; we only accept 2, baptism and communion, because they are the only 2 Jesus actually commands. But if I were pressed to nominate another act of Jesus to be a sacrament, I would be tempted to say, “footwashing.” Jesus actually said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15) That's almost a commandment.

We do practice footwashing on Maundy Thursday. It feels weird because it's not really a part of everyday life, as it was in Jesus' day. But it was weird then, too, because Jesus was doing something relegated to the lowest slave. People didn't wear shoes and socks but open-toed sandals. And the streets weren't usually paved, nor were they cleaned regularly. And they didn't have sewers. So folks' feet were nasty. But that was the point. When you love someone, you do what needs to be done for them, even if it means you have to get your hands dirty.

I don't think you could be an effective parent if you had rupophobia, the fear of dirt, filth and feces. Likewise you would have trouble taking care of a child if you had emetophobia (fear of vomit), quenliskanphobia (fear of spit or saliva), hemophobia (fear of blood) or mysophobia (fear of germs). As a nurse, I can handle anything provided I am wearing gloves and a paper gown and sometimes a mask. But most parents realize you don't always have a hazmat suit available; you do what you have to do with what you have at hand. And you do it out of love.

Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word for commandment. That refers to what Jesus says in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Love is messy and Jesus is showing us both how much he loves us and how much we should love one another.

So what kind of messes should we be willing to deal with when expressing Jesus' love?

Besides physical messes, there are emotional messes. We all know people who have been an emotional mess at some time. And some folks are an emotional mess more frequently than others. Usually we try to distance ourselves from such people. We may fear being drawn into the drama or just feel unable to help the person. I get exposed to all kinds of messy emotions at the jail: anger, despair, jealousy, remorse, and on rare occasions, false hope. What I do is listen. Sometimes all the person needs is someone to vent to. If you let them talk long enough, they might even suggest a solution to the problem. The real difficulty might be facing the unpleasant truth. They may just want someone to confirm what they already know they must do but really don't want to. Sometimes they just want someone to say, “That sucks.” And it helps when they realize how Jesus also faced a choice and course of action that sucked but which he accepted for our sake. When I pray with them, I restate what they said about how they feel and they are moved and relieved that we could be that honest in presenting it to God.

Keep in mind that Jesus stripped himself of his tunic and wrapped a towel around his waist. If you are dealing with a mess, you don't want to get any more of it on you than necessary. Crying with those who cry is fine but you don't want to get enraged with someone who is in a rage or panicky when the other person is panicky or hysterical with someone who is already hysterical. A nurse washes her hand before touching a patient. Ask God to help you keep your head and stay calm and helpful while dealing with the mess. And just like a nurse strips off the gloves and gowns and washes her hands again after cleaning up the mess, you need to shed as much of the debilitating emotions afterward and spent some time getting yourself back on an even keel. Ask God's Spirit to cleanse, refresh and restore you. Get sleep; exercise; eat well.

Protecting yourself from the chaos is especially important when dealing with the financial messes people find themselves in. I am grateful that my contract with the jail forbids me from handling money or doing business for or with the inmates. Sometimes I wish I could help them deposit a check and pay their landlord so they don't lose their place to stay while in jail. But that would open me to a lot liabilities and I might mess things up because I am not a financial worker. I try to see if they can call a friend or relative. (And, sadly, I have found that usually they have no one in their life they can trust.) Probably the best thing you can do is refer someone in financial trouble to an expert and keep them from making fiscal decisions while in emotional turmoil.

If the person is a spiritual mess, you should definitely refer them to The Expert: God. You may need to assure them that God can forgive anything and is willing to hear their cry. This is a situation in which it is important to have some passages of scripture memorized that can help. Hopefully, some of them are verses that have helped you. The main things that keep people from God are guilt, shame and fear. I have found that doubt is a very distant fourth on this list. They wouldn't have turned to you for spiritual help if their doubts were that strong. Again you must be very empathetic, even if the person seems a bit blasphemous. A lot of it has to be discounted as the pain and despair talking. Feel free to call me in if you sense you are out of your depth. And maintain your spiritual hygiene. To shift the metaphor, drowning people are panicky and will grab for anything, including a rescuer and take them under as well. Experienced lifeguards know how to approach such people so that they don't both drown. To shift the metaphor once more, remember to have your oxygen mask on first so you can be able to help the other person with theirs.

People are messy. Their problems are messy. And our master Jesus the Messiah, the son of God, is willing to strip down, put on a towel, grab a basin and clean up people and their messes. As his students and followers, we need to do what he has done. It is how we love one another as he loved us.

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