We’ve had a few truly glorious weather days in the last few weeks. The Appalachian humidity isn’t crushing yet, the mosquitoes are rare, the temperatures are mild, and the sun has been out for days at a time. So naturally, my kids have been outside making a glorious mess of themselves. 

A few days ago, my four year old son came in at the end of a long day and took off his shoes. I was shocked by his feet, which were caked in hours of imagining and grass and dirt and mud. It’s something that continues to surprise me about motherhood — kids are perpetually dirty. They constantly need help getting cleaned up so they can function. And if it’s not physical dirt, they have emotional “stuff” clouding their experience of reality. 

I feel like my kids have had a lot of emotional struggles lately. They have been through a number of big transitions in the past year, and they’ve been fraught with big feelings that are difficult even for mature adults to process. And in more instances than I care to number, I’ve felt powerless to help them. There are so many times when there’s nothing to say that will fix the hurt in their hearts.  

As hard as it is to be in those moments, I recognize that there will only be more of them as they grow older. They’re going to continue to live in the world and roll around in the proverbial dirt— I can’t eliminate that. I can’t save them from all of the hurts and trials of this life.

But I can wash their feet. I can take my son up to the bath late at night and scrub and tickle his shockingly dirty feet. I can sit at the bedside of my oldest daughter at night and listen as she shares whatever is on her heart. I can take the time to hold my second daughter when she has feelings that she can’t yet explain or understand. I can’t stop the dirt from coming, but I can be there when it does, ready to wash and soothe and listen.

Most of us are not particularly good at this by nature, but we have Christ’s example on Holy Thursday to lead us. As Christ took off his outer garment, we need to be willing to put our “priorities” and pride aside, and be vulnerable with our kids. As Christ was patient with Peter, who had difficulty accepting His humble sacrifice, we need to be patient when our kids push away from our attempts to love them. And as Christ instructed the apostles, we must teach our kids to look for opportunities to wash others’ feet, too.

I’m learning to anticipate my kids’ dirty feet. I’m learning more about how to help cleanse them. And I’m learning to be patient when it comes again tomorrow.