I’m not a doormat. But I have lived like one. I’ve stayed put in situations where I know I should leave. Stood silently when people have spoken out of hatred and discrimination.
I have let people slander, falsely accuse, and violate me, their words like slung mud on my back.
I have acquiesced to going places and doing things in which I had absolutely no interest.
I have smiled while men shared misogynistic rancor thinly veiled as jokes.
That’s doormat behavior.
Now wait--I know you’re going to tell me that I should bless those who curse me (Romans 12:14), or turn the other cheek (Luke 6:27-29), or that the meek are blessed and shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). I would say, yes! I agree wholeheartedly.
So what am I talking about, then? Motivation.
I’m ashamed to say that, too many times, my motivation for turning the veritable cheek is not Christ-likeness. Rather, my motivation is acceptance, or fear, or apathy. That’s doormat behavior. Limp, passive, going nowhere, and getting trampled.
My calling is to be more like Jesus, and Jesus was no doormat. Jesus cleaned feet, yes, but that’s where the similarities end. Jesus willingly, intentionally donned clothes of a servant, knelt at people’s feet, poured fresh water on the dirty and muddy places, and made them clean.
Want to know the distinctions I see between doormats and footwashers? Water and work.
When my motivation is spiritual growth, focus on Jesus, and pursuing righteousness, I enthusiastically work to wash the feet of my friends and foes alike by bearing with those who require extra grace, compromising when necessary, or by calling out faulty thinking in order to edify (not embarrass).
It takes work to cover people with grace when their deeds might merit negative exposure. It takes self-control and character to be truly meek.
But more than work, it also takes water. Water, even more than active effort, is what sets a doormat apart from a footwasher, because water thoroughly cleanses, and, unlike a doormat, leaves no trace of soil on the either the person serving or being served.
Doormat living thrives on dirt. The soil of passive-aggressiveness to avoid conflict. The soot of absorbing the maltreatment of others because you believe it’s your lot in life. The motivation of doormat living is self-pity and pride. Self-loathing is a crazy hubris; it is believing that even if God says I’m made in His image, He’s wrong…but only about me. It’s attempting to live like we’re just dust even after receiving God’s breath.
We have this treasure, this water, so to speak, in our earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). The treasure is the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). This water is the God-given ability to forgive and be forgiven (1 John 1:6-9 is so enlightened by John 13:3-10!), so we can continually walk in peace with God.
No one but God knows the motivation behind our actions, and we can live the façade of holiness while all the while having a heart of a white-washed sepulcher, encasing dead men’s bones instead of living water.
I hate to ask myself this (too convicting), but must, continually: What is my motivation in turning the other cheek, in remaining silent, in pausing before I respond? Is it to be mired in dirt, or to emulate the One who is making me clean?
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas.