One of the most important relationships is the one I have with my parents. My mother, Joann, in specific, is one of the biggest supporters in my life. She encourages me when I am sad, listens carefully to what I say (and what I don’t say), and pushes me when she thinks I need challenging. My relationship with my mom is rich because she has been the most stable figure in my life. No matter what stage or cycle I find myself, I can always count on having my mother’s support. We don’t have the “easiest” relationship, as we have strong (and occasionally, clashing) personalities, and there are many things that we still need to work on within our mother-daughter relationship, but I am so thankful for her commitment to our family. For the majority of the years in my childhood she was the primary caretaker and she was dedicated in raising her three children. As the eldest child, I was held as the example for my brother and sister, and inherent for first borns are higher standards, as my mother knows all too well.
My mother did not have an easy upbringing, and it was very traumatic in many ways. She had a hard childhood with unstable parents and was adopted by age 5 by a couple who showed her all the love she never witnessed prior to adoption. It was a great blessing for my mother to learn about being gentle and kind as she emulated her adoptive parents for about eight years. She became the caretaker of her siblings when she eventually moved back with her biological mother in her early teens and kept up with the kids after they became adults. She was the one that kept her family intact, despite the physical and emotional distance between her five siblings.
By the accounts of her own biological parents, my mother should not be the loving, caring, and selfless person she has become. I thank God for my adoptive grandparents because without their profound impact on my mothers life, my mother may have been too hardened by the circumstances of her childhood. In the face of obstacles and trauma, she kept living and loving on those around her without hesitation. My mother loved on those who did her wrong, and she still continued to reach out even when others would have given up. I write all of this to explain that my mother amazes me. Her story is one of resiliency and service to others. She inspires me to be more thankful, more loving, and more forgiving. As a Christian especially, these are some of the values that I want to continue to learn and practice because they are easy lessons to “forget” when things are not going as planned.
My mother and I have our differences at times, but ultimately, I am thankful for her in her entirety, not just the parts that are compatible with mine. I embrace her fiercely loving and protective instincts because I know her heart is well meaning, even when the delivery of a message is not in a “pretty” package. Like all loving relationships, admittedly we have disagreements that result in hurt for both of us. I could dig my heels in and kept a grudge when arguments occur, but that is not helpful for either of us! It is not typical for me to be on a bad note with my mother and I am relieved when we make up. By talking and forgiving each other we are able to embrace more fully our relationship, which has evolved into a beautiful friendship. What caused my mother’s heartache in her youth was the glue that encouraged her to love, trust, and forgive as an adult. She is a model mother, friend, and an encouragement to me, and many others, during times where nothing seems right. My mother’s childhood experiences were not in vain. Jesus always has a plan for us, no matter how painful our past or current situation.
Everyone has a personal history that can be seasoned with painful memories, and yet, counter-intuitively, these hardships can be the very catalysts that enrich relationships. In spite of any instances of drama or stress induced by the upcoming holidays, the holidays can have a magical charm that softens hearts and makes otherwise hard to reach people more accessible. We may try to enjoy the day with those closest to our hearts when possible.
For others though, holidays are more complicated and not as easy to enjoy. With the high demands of the season can come tension, and maybe more difficulty managing relationships. Maybe you, or someone you love, for example, is dealing with a mental health, physical health, or even an addiction that hasn’t improved despite the praying and pleading you’ve done around it. Or maybe you’re at a spiritual crossroads because you think God hasn’t heard your prayers. Perhaps you have lost faith due to a trauma or hardship that you don’t know how to recover from on your own. Maybe a loved one has recently passed or has moved away and your heart is still grieving. Sadly, the holidays that should be joyous can instead be reminders of painful dysfunctions or disconnections in your family.
As my mother has taught me, even through adversity, love and kindness prevails. When I close my heart off because I am hurt, I want to remind myself that humbling myself and having a grateful heart is the example I have been taught by my mother in my youth, and by Jesus as my faith grows in my adulthood. I choose to be thankful, on purpose, regardless of the stressors in front of me. Instead of being stubborn and self righteous, I try to consider other perspectives. By the example of Jesus I can love on others as God intended, as written in John 13, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.
In the gospel of John 13:1-17, Jesus is aware that his death hour is near and he is prepping to have his last meal with his beloved friends, the disciples. Jesus takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist, and begins to wash the disciple’s feet. As the King of the World, He humbles Himself to wash and dry His follower’s feet. Peter did not understand why Jesus would do this for him as he protests and says that Jesus will never wash his feet. Jesus seems patient and loving as He replies to Peter, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will” (John 13:7). Jesus knows that the disciples need more help in understanding His actions, so He explains that since Jesus, God in the Flesh, was able to serve the disciples in this way, that they should take that example and humble themselves to wash the feet of others in acts of service, forgiveness, and love.
Jesus knew that He would be betrayed in just a few hours by one of His disciples, and that he would suffer a brutal and agonizing death. In spite of the knowledge that Jesus would be betrayed, He washed all of the disciple’s feet, including Judas, the one who would begin the cascade of events that would lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus, even close to His death hour was still teaching about self service and forgiveness, as he sat alongside of the man would lead Him to His death! Jesus instructs us to remember that the Father’s message should be upheld independent of our own human will when he says:
“I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who send the message” (John 13:16).
Jesus set the example of loving others, in spite of what actions or wrongs a person may have done in the past, or will occur in the future. His message of self sacrifice is the key to lasting impact on another person’s life. If Jesus personally did not set the example for His disciples of how to impact the lives of all He met, how would the disciples have known how to love and serve others as Jesus did? Jesus loved and cared about everyone and He humbled Himself when it was not expected. How often do we humble ourselves when we want to be self righteous or proud instead?
Jesus washing His disciple’s feet was an act of love and self sacrifice. Jesus used Himself as the ultimate self sacrifice to show His love for humanity when He died a violent death on the cross. If Jesus could love even those who wished Him death, how can we use Christ’s example of love and be thankful for others who are in our social circles, especially when someone is not in our “good graces”. Service and gratitude of others may not be a common consideration when things are not going right, but Jesus explains that holding this perspective is the way that God will bless us.
For my family this Christmas season, I hope to be more intentional about loving on others when serving others is not my first thought, as my mother and Heavenly Father have set this example for me. I understand that for some, the holidays are merry and bright, and for others holidays are less cheerful and more somber. Regardless of which side you identify with most, joyous or more complex, or even how the two categories combine in your life this holiday season, rest assured that God sees you in your current circumstance. He knows where intervention and healing needs to occur in your life. Choose to give thanks! Choose to humble yourself and figuratively wash someone else’s feet as an act of service and love. Choose to have full, thankful hearts in spite of what you may think is missing.
Darlene Servolini lives in King of Prussia with her two young daughters and has been a member of Hope for three years. She has been thrilled to witness the love of God poured out from her church into her own life, family, and home throughout the various seasons of sunshine and storms. As a new Christian, she hopes to continually learn and grow in her faith and to share the kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness that Jesus has shown her (even at her worst!), with everyone she meets.