When I am at work I wash my hands constantly. Every time I leave a patient’s room I head straight for the hand sanitizer on the wall. After using the hand sanitizer four or five times, it is time for a real hand-washing. Among other things, every dressing change, blood sugar check, injection, or application of an ointment also merits a trip to the sink.
The result? My hands are a mess. They are red, dry and cracked, and at times, even bleeding. They hurt. At night I slather them with cream and wear mittens to bed in an attempt to give them some relief. I look at my hands ruefully and recognize that I, unlike George Costanza, will never be asked to be a hand model.
Do you remember that episode from the Seinfeld show? If you are a Seinfeld fan, you may recognize it as one of the plots in The Puffy Shirt episode. An agent admires George’s hands and refers him to hand model photographers. George is so taken with this new image of ‘exquisite’ hands that he tries to protect them by wearing oven mitts. If you are familiar with the life of George, you already know that this venture has a typical dismal outcome, his career as a hand model ending abruptly when his hands are accidentally burned. If he had only continued to wear his oven mitts his hands would have been safe, but of course, it is difficult to navigate everyday life wearing oven mitts. And anyway, hands are not intended to be just pretty; they were designed to be useful.
Hands are an amazing instrument. Unlike most animals, we have an opposing thumb that makes it possible for us to touch all the other fingers on our hand. This enables us to engage in precise fine-motor skills. Can you imagine an eye or brain surgeon trying to operate without the use of a thumb? For that matter, think about holding a pen, or typing on a keyboard without a thumb. So many actions that we take for granted would become decidedly harder without an opposing thumb.
I often ask my patients what kind of work they did. There is an endless variety: farmers, policemen, authors, professors, lawyers, nurses, doctors, teachers, and housekeepers to name a few. Although their skills and accomplishments vary, something they have in common is that in one way or another they all used their hands. Whether with a shovel, computer keyboard, chalk, surgical tools, or a mop, hands were needed to accomplish their tasks.
When I was little I was a great admirer of my mother’s hands. I loved her soft skin and the neatly filed fingernails. Now that I am older, I admire them for different reasons. Over the years those hands prepared thousands of meals for our family of seven. They washed countless loads of laundry, kept our house clean, applied numerous band-aids, played with children and grandchildren, and applauded the efforts of those she loves. Her hands are beautiful because they are hands that serve.
In this she is like her Savior. Jesus said “I am among you as one who serves.” This was demonstrated most vividly one memorable evening when Jesus was having dinner with his disciples. The meal was still in progress when he got up from the table, took off his outer clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. (John 13)
This was an uncomfortable turn of events for the disciples as we can tell from Peter’s remarks, “You are not going to wash my feet – ever!” Peter was properly aghast at what Jesus was doing. Washing the feet of guests was the responsibility of the lowest servant in the household; it was considered the most menial of tasks. The Messiah, the King, should not be washing feet!
Webster’s Dictionary defines menial as appropriate to a servant; lacking dignity. However, is not dignity conferred on any task undertaken by a King? And even more, is not humility itself dignified when it is displayed by a King?
Sometimes people think that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in spite of being God, but I think the Bible shows that he washed their feet because he was God. The majestic King of Kings, the Creator and Ruler, the One whose name is above every other, called himself a servant. “I am among you as one who serves.”
We are so used to thinking of ourselves as servants of God, that we sometimes forget that whatever we know about serving we have learned from Him. He is a Servant-God. “Since before time began no one has ever imagined, no ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him.” Isaiah 64:4
I think that when we are in heaven we will be in a vast company of people with beautiful hands, hands that served others. And the most beautiful hands of all will be the ones with the nail scarred palms. I can’t wait to see them! In the meantime I want to continue to work on beautifying my own hands, not with lotions and creams, but with acts of service. Off with the oven mitts!