This past weekend involved an epic battle with a toilet. (Some of you heard part of this story this past weekend here)
As a person who is not mechanically inclined, the sound of a dripping - and constantly refilling - toilet is the sound of sheer torment. Yet it was either my will and energy or paying a plumber, so we decided to go with the cheaper option first.
It seemed simple at first: a rubber ring at the base of the toilet tank was loose and floating around and therefore needed to be replaced.
Replaced the ring. Problem persisted.
Then we replaced the flush valve. Problem persisted.
Then we replaced the looped doohickey. Right, so that doesn’t exist but you get the point.
Finally, at 10:45 on a Saturday night I found myself sweating and bleeding after taking everything apart and separating the tank from the bowl.
I promise this is going somewhere.
At last, the problem was found. A tank-to-bowl gasket was rotted and useless. Now, to simply replace that.
Of course it wasn’t simple and I had to actually leave it and walk away and come back later to get the whole project done.
The thing I noticed most about myself was how my level of frustration spiraled out of control. I felt this sense of failure as a man, though I’ve never been “that kind of man,” for not being able to fix it without six trips to Home Depot.
I felt a sense of anger - yes anger - at a porcelain device that many people in the developing world don’t even have access to. This irony was only heightened by the fact that there are two other toilets in our house that were completely functional at the time.
What I also realized from the whole experience is this: it all has a place.
My anger and frustration has a place in the story - a healthy, constructive place if I choose to go there.
My incompetence with mechanical, plumbing, and all things handy has a place.
My feelings of inadequacy and exhaustion have a place.
The bit of beauty when everything was resolved (sort of, that's a long story) and the leaking disappeared has a place too.
The various creative words that I assigned to the toilet as we wrestled into the night, yes, even those have a place.
In our life as human beings which is also our life with God, intentional or not, we seem to think that failure and struggle and overreaction have no place and are completely unhelpful. While letting those things run wild through our souls can shred whatever sense of sanity we have, the natural appearance of anger and frustration are simply that: natural.
So instead of saying, “Why am I so weak?” or “Why can’t I stop being angry?” perhaps what we should be saying is, “Where does this go? Where does this belong?”
I began to realize that my anger came out of the fact that I just want things to work - I don’t want there to be problems with the little things and I want everything to go smoothly. Why? Because I don’t want to be bothered with the fixes.
James says, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials…” In my mind, as long as I can face the trials and not have to exert any effort I think we’re all good. That isn’t how it works, though.
Real human existence with God is most profoundly shaped when the sacred and the profane come together and we learn from it all as part of the package. What does that look like?
Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh talks about anger in the sense of a mother with her child. A mother does not throw out her baby every time the baby is crying and unhappy, instead she says, “I will take good care of you.” She addresses the cause, the seed of her child’s discomfort and that heals the anger rather than ignoring it or hoping it goes away. It has a place.
Sometimes anger is a wonderful teacher, it is a venue where God can remind us that life is not easily separated into categories where this is “good” and how you “should” be and this is “evil” and how you “shouldn’t” be. Anger isn’t preferable as a way to live, of course. There’s a difference between being angry and being an “angry person.” One is a way in life, the other is a way OF life.
Instead of looking at ourselves as shameful failures when we’re angry or frustrated, perhaps we simply look at the sparks and arcs of our soul and say:
Where does this belong?
As you think through this, where have you felt this same sting - that your emotions, struggles, and oversights don’t belong and need to be hidden or pushed aside? What would it look like for you to enter into those moments with Jesus today, and like a mother with a child say, “We’re going to take good care of you.”