“Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at…rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave.” Ph. 2:6-7
What does it mean to empty yourself? It means to give your all, to give when it hurts, to do things that other people might consider to be beneath themselves in order to show deep love. It certainly was beneath God to take on human form with all of the suffering that humanity entails. But this is exactly what God did in the incarnation of Jesus; he took on the suffering human form. So now, as Christians, we are all called to follow this example and empty ourselves to show our love for others. We are called to serve others even in ways that may be unpleasant. We are called to serve others in ways that we may dislike, in ways that may hurt us, and in ways that may cause us suffering. By serving others in this way, we are emptying ourselves and showing our kenotic love in our following of the incarnated Christ.
My favorite example of kenotic love is really quite simple. Kenotic love can be found in a dishwasher. When my husband Paul and I were first married, I read a marriage advice column where the columnist advised “If you really want to make love to your wife, do the dishes.” His point was that every day love wasn’t found in dramatic, romantic displays such as buying flowers or candy. Every day love was found in helping with routine chores, and in doing this simple activity of washing the dishes, however unpleasant that may be, a husband would be showing his love for his wife, and in return, she would be drawn closer to him in gratitude.
Now with children, it’s another story. Doing the dishes has become a dreaded and fought over chore. As evening dinner draws to a close and the nightly dish chores are assigned, we often hear a tremendous amount of groaning from the kids. Common complaints such as “I just did them last night!” or “I have dibs on drying!” echo around the table. Paul and I find that our kids hate doing the dishes so much that we have begun to assign it as our favorite punishment for misbehavior. “What? You got a “D” on your test? Dishes for a month! “You hit your brother again? Dishes for a month!” Of course the other kids catch on pretty quickly, and are thrilled when someone is given this punishment, because that means they are off the hook for a month. Sometimes, I suspect they look for ways to get each other in trouble just so they can avoid the chore for lengthy periods of time!
Recently, we invited a dear friend for dinner. It was his first time at our house. We know that he works really hard and we wanted to show him a relaxing time. No sooner was the meal finished, than he stood up and said “Well, now I’m going to wash the dishes!” Like Peter when Jesus wanted to wash his feet, we all protested in embarrassment. We wanted him to relax, not work! But it was too late, his sleeves were rolled up and he was running the water, and so, he washed the dishes! It actually was fun working together, freely talking and enjoying music. He said he enjoys doing dishes because it yields the satisfaction of a completed job, dishes put away in the cupboard and the sink shining. It was a good point in this world of loose ends.
By his simple act of washing the dishes, he showed gratitude for the meal and he set a good example for the children. But more than this, he showed kenotic love. He emptied himself to be of service to my family. It was such a humble and yet profoundly beautiful act. We will never forget. What a beautiful example of living the incarnation of Christ!
For Fr. Don with gratitude!