There are so many ways we can offend and be offended by others, especially in relationships with family members, friends, coworkers, and fellow church members. Sometimes we don’t even know that we have rubbed someone the wrong way or that someone is holding a grudge against us. We may have actually said or done something—or jealousy and envy could be at work in someone’s heart. In the eyes of Jesus, it is never OK to remain resentful or angry with someone because of an offense. We are instructed in God’s Word to take the time to clear the air and set things right with those we have offended or with someone who may have insulted us.
Some years ago, I was blessed to learn how to bring about reconciliation between myself and an older woman in my church. Sister Harris always seemed to be irritated by me and my twin daughters. Her annoyance was obvious, especially when there was a church potluck. Sister Harris always had several dishes she prepared to share with her family and choice friends at church.
People waited eagerly for her desserts—a pound cake, a delicious pie, or big chunky cookies. After lunch, she would bring out her treats and walk around the tables, serving the people she chose with a gracious smile. Her smile would fade as she passed by my daughters and me to share with those she felt worthy.
And it wasn’t just at potluck; we felt rejected and confused by her apparent dislike for us. She turned away from us when she served as usher and often spoke to us with a harsh tone. As a new member of the church, I had no idea what I had done to offend her.
Cheryl, a teacher at my daughters’ church school, graciously offered to give my girls a ride to and from school since she passed our house on her way. She became my friend. We chatted on the phone most Sunday mornings, catching up with each other and praying together about everything. Her prayers meant so much to me. I learned so much from her quiet faith. While talking with Cheryl one morning, I opened up and shared my dilemma about my relationship with Sister Harris. Cheryl responded, “Next time you have communion, serve her.” I had no idea what she was telling me to do.
My upbringing was in the Freewill Baptist church. We had foot washing during Wednesday night prayer meeting before First Sunday. Perhaps because I was young and not paying attention, I never connected it to communion, nor did I remember learning the significance of foot washing.
“Wash her feet,” Cheryl said. “Sali, when you wash her feet, you are showing humility; you are humbling yourself to honor her.” Our conversation turned to something else, but it left me with this “humble yourself” idea to grapple with until the next communion service.
The next time we celebrated communion, I remembered Cheryl’s advice and sought out Sister Harris. When I took the little basin and towel and knelt before her that day, our eyes locked and she dropped her head. The room was filled with chatter and singing, but neither of us spoke. I lifted one foot at a time into the basin and cupped the cascading water with my hand. After wiping each toe gently, I carefully placed a shoe on each foot while I felt God’s tug on my heart.
When I stood up to return the basin and find a seat, I had no idea what God had in mind from that day forward when it came to Sister Harris. I only felt in my heart that I had somehow been obedient to Jesus.
Two years later, I left Philadelphia to enroll in the University of South Carolina to finish my college education. Word of my graduation traveled back to my home church in Philadelphia, and Sister Harris came. She took the train from Philadelphia, stayed in a motel, took a taxi to graduation, and surprised me. When I had left Philadelphia, Sister Harris had requested my new address, and from time to time she would send a card with an encouraging word and always “a piece of change.” “Buy yourself some lunch or treat the girls to ice cream,” she wrote. Although I never moved back to Philadelphia, Sister Harris remained in touch with me. When she passed away many years later, her daughter asked me to sing at her service.
My friend Cheryl’s advice has had a profound impact on my life. If you have a Sister or Brother Harris in your life, consider this advice and wash their feet.
Sali Butler is the administrative assistant to the regional director of the Pacific Union Conference.