It was crisp and cool that morning of May 3, 2013. I made my way to work excited that it was Friday. It had been a long, busy week for me, and I was feeling a bit tired.
I was also feeling a bit discouraged. I was probably experiencing what I call servant-fatigue. It is what we feel when we start to question whether our efforts to serve Christ in the world are really making a difference. Would anyone miss our efforts if we stopped?
A few hours later, while taking my morning walk-break, I suffered a massive, congestive heart attack. And, if the heart failure itself was not serious enough, I picked up some mysterious, quite deadly infection that caused respiratory complications including severe, pulmonary hemorrhaging. My doctors' primary objective was to keep me alive long enough to arrest the infection.
I was in a coma for five weeks. My family was prepared for the worst – if I survived, I would probably be confined to a bed as I most assuredly had brain damage. My brother Benjamin, however, clung to the words of Jesus: "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40) He told our family that this would be our mantra – to see the glory of God.
Slowly, I started to show signs of improvement. Surely, I got better and better. My doctors and caregivers were amazed and astounded. Some started calling me the "miracle boy."
One afternoon one of my favorite nurses had performed her routine duties on me. Finished with her charting, she came over and stood at my bedside, just looking at me.
"You were under for quite a while," she said. "You went through a lot. I am curious. Did you see or experience anything unusual?"
I looked up at her and said, "I had a great time. Got to spend some quality time with Jesus." I said I had a couple of dreams or visions and learned some things. I looked away and did not say anything else.
After several long seconds of stone-cold silence, she shook her hands palms up and asked rather peeved, "Like?!?"
I told her about one.
I am soaring high above a beautiful coastline where lush green cliffs look over a white, sandy beach below. Flying like an eagle along this majestic coastline, I come upon lots of people gathered at the water's edge. I go down and start walking toward them. People are coming and going, but all are hovering around one young man who seems to be listening to them and giving advice.
I hear one woman say to another, "Ask the Lord about that."
Pointing at the young man, I asked her, "Is that the Lord?" She did not answer me. I asked, "Where is this place? Where am I?" No one looked at me. It was as if they could not see me. I made my way closer to the man at the center of the crowd. He had a towel tied around his waist, but I did not think much about it.
As he dismissed one person, I tried to get his attention. I asked, "Are you the Lord?"
Instead of answering my question, he simply turned and knelt in front of an elderly woman sitting on a small stool in front of a basin. The people in line to speak to him just stood and waited. He washed the woman's feet and dried them. Then, he kissed her on her head and turned back to the people in line. After talking with a couple of them, he turned back around, knelt in front of a young boy who seemed to have multiple sclerosis and proceeded to wash his feet.
Nothing more important than washing feet
This kneeling to wash feet and rising to speak to people in line went on for quite a while. Finally, frustrated with this inefficient multi-tasking, I blurted out, "Lord, why are you wasting time washing feet when all of these people are waiting in line to speak with you, to get your direction on important matters?"
The Lord stopped his foot washing. Standing up and facing me, he looked me straight in the eye but said nothing immediately.
Then, with one of the deepest looks of compassion I have ever seen, he said, "There is nothing more important in heaven or on Earth than washing feet." He took the towel in his hands, turned around and got back on his knees to finish what he had started.
Immediately, I started to feel myself drifting from the scene. "Lord!" I cried out, "Tell me more! Please, what did you mean?"
I woke up in my hospital room and it was the middle of the night. Over the next few weeks, I worked hard in therapy, but often my last thought at night was "Lord, you said there is nothing more important in heaven or on Earth than washing feet. Please, help me understand."
My answer came not in another dream, but in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. I was walking the hallways of my rehab facility, working to build strength and endurance. Passing one particular room, I looked in and saw that the resident, an elderly, frail-looking man, had fallen between his wheelchair and his bed. I should have used the call button, but I just went over and tried to help him. He had soiled himself. Embarrassed, he apologized to me for having to help him in that condition. I managed to get him to the bathroom.
Loving to serve, serving to love
Back in my room, I plopped on my bed, exhausted from my little excursion. Then, out of nowhere, words came to me like a quiet whisper in my ear: "That was washing feet. Never, ever stop washing feet. Each time you do, I will know how much you love me."
I was suddenly filled with emotion. I choked up. Finally, I understood. Here is the Lord, the Redeemer, needing to hear from us, to see from us that we in fact do love him — every day — in big ways and in little ways.
When we read to a child in a poor school district, we wash feet. When we take food to a shut-in, we wash feet. When we walk through iron prison gates to love those who are not loved, we wash feet. When my brothers and sisters in Christ cared for my family and me while I was down, they washed my feet. My pastor, the Rev. Carol Cavin-Dillon, was in the ICU with me. Probably wondering if I were going to make it, she was there, early in the morning, praying and reading Scriptures for me. My pastor washed my feet, when I was not even conscious.
Many others did special and loving things for my family and me. I can imagine – for every time they washed my feet – seeing Jesus with a big, wide grin across his face, beaming with pride and joy over their display of love for him.
If your works of justice and mercy ever start to feel a bit strained, by all means, take a break. But, please return and do not neglect to serve the least of us. Do not think for a minute that your love and sacrifice do not matter. Never think that your time and effort go unnoticed and unappreciated. I believe every time you wash someone's feet, the Lord sees it and holds it close, like a beautiful love note from you, and only you, to him.
When we take the bread and the cup, we catch a tiny glimpse of the breadth and length, height and depth of Christ's love for us. But when we wash one another's feet, then it becomes our privilege to give Christ a glimpse of the breadth and length and height and depth of our love for him. We may not think it is much, but I firmly believe it means everything to him. I believe I have it on good authority that to him there is nothing more important in heaven or on Earth than my washing your feet, and you washing mine.
Sam Murillo is a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn., where he first shared this story on Holy Thursday in 2014. He has recovered well from the heart attack and infection. By Christmas 2013, Murillo had returned to full-time work as a partner in a financial brokerage firm. He and his wife, Susan, have two young adult children, Jessica and Jared, a son-in-law, Aaron, and a grandson, Sutton, born in April 2014.