Wisdom from the Bathroom

Our bathroom has more scars than it should for a bathroom of its age. That is, it’s a lot like the people here.

When we moved into our house, there was no indoor toilet or shower. We had an outhouse and a shower head hooked up in what used to be a sauna room sitting in the back of our property. Needless to say, we worked to remedy that lack right away.

But life happened. Sometimes that’s all you can chalk these kinds of things up to. Life. It happens. It happens to us all.

After moving in in the summer of 2016, we finished installing the bathroom in our house just days before we left for a three month trip to Spain and the United States. We spent the days before we left cleaning up the last stubborn particles of drywall dust and packing for our trip. We set our bags in the hallway (you’ll see why that was a mistake in a minute), set our alarms for a time in the morning that no one should ever have to see, and tried to get a few hours of sleep before we made our way to the airport.

When the alarm finally sounded that next morning (more like later that night), Laura got out of bed first. She opened the door. And stepped in a puddle. In the hallway. Where our packed bags were sitting.

We walked into the newly installed bathroom—at this point literally only days old—and saw something that still makes me shudder every time I remember it. The water heater tank that was hung on the wall was no longer on the wall. It had ripped free, fallen six feet to the ground, and demolished the toilet. (Literally demolished the toilet. Pieces of it were scattered throughout the new pool that used to be the bathroom.) We shut off the water main, mopped up as much of the pool as we could, and drove to the airport in shaken silence.

We had arranged for the man who had done the work in the bathroom to come back to our house while we were gone and do some other odd jobs. His to-do list had just changed in a rather dramatic way, and at the top of the new list was to fix everything that had been so suddenly shattered. Literally.

By the time we got back from our three month trip in Spain and the U.S., we had a new toilet, but the guy had re-hung the same old dented water heater. It remains there to this day. It appears he did a better job hanging the thing this time.

I wish I could say that was that. But that wasn’t that. Oh no. You see, while the toilet took the full force of the water heater’s impact, the water that filled the bathroom and hallway began to work its much more patient, much less dramatic magic on the newly set tile and grout. The result? Two years later we were able to pick up several tiles with our hands. They were all coming completely loose. Most of the grout had cracked and had been sucked up by the vacuum cleaner by then, and the tile adhesive underneath had completely detached from the bottom of the tile.

So we decided we’d “simply” remove the old tile, chip away at the old thinset underneath, slap some new thinset on the old tiles, and we’d be back in business. Just like new, right? But it wasn’t meant to be. Removing the floor tiles also meant removing the short façade that was built around the exposed edge of the bathtub to hide the tub’s legs and pipes. It soon became clear that we were dealing with more issues than we’d hoped for. For the last two years, water had been seeping through the silicone seal along the edge of the bathtub and had damaged two walls.

The bathtub had to be pulled out for us to really know what kind of damage we were dealing with. So we grunted and groaned and shed blood, sweat, and tears until we finally freed the bathtub from the clutched of tiles, grout, and more silicone than I ever want to see again in my life. As soon as the old brute was free, it became clear we could not trust any of the tile work the man had done to keep any water out. The damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it simply wasn’t worth risking allowing any more free flowing water from the shower head or bathtub faucet to come into contact with the wall around the bathtub. The bathtub was a complete wash. (Pun intended.) We couldn’t reinstall it.

We opted for one of those closet shower type deals. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, it’s basically an all-contained shower unit made of plastic and glass (or at least things that look like plastic and glass, but that’s beside the point). That way any water that we spray inside that thing won’t get out into any other place in the bathroom. At least that’s the idea. I resisted for as long as I could. The closet shower things remind me of some type of teleportation device. But you’ll shower in a teleportation device if that’s what it takes to sleep better at night and not worry about continual water damage. I yielded.

So we went into damage control mode and tried to salvage what we could after creating a gaping hole in our bathroom where the bathtub had been. Nothing is a perfect fit. The new white tiles, of course, aren’t quite the same shade as the old ones. There are patches where the old bathtub pipes and shower head used to come through the tiles. And of course, the water heater remains scarred with dents deep enough to make you wonder how the darn thing is even still working.

So that’s how our two-year-old bathroom got its scars, scars that will remain part of the bathroom’s history as long as the bathroom remains there.

And that’s why I say that our bathroom is a lot like the people here: too young for its scars. Really, our bathroom is a lot like pretty much all people everywhere. I mean, really, who’s old enough to carry around the scars that we carry? Do you ever reach an age where you’re old enough to carry the scar of abuse, broken relationships, an alcoholic father, betrayal, abandonment, loneliness, war, famine, disease, chronic pain, or the loss of a loved one?

We’re all just like my bathroom. We get all prettied up the best we can, and bam! Some figurative water heater falls off our wall and smashes our toilet and begins a chain reaction which results in the complete destruction of the floor tiles and bathtub. And disaster is no respecter of age.

What do you?

I for one have had to re-examine where I try to find my peace of mind. I can no longer find my peace of mind in the confidence that I’ve eliminated all threats of future scars from my life. I have no such confidence. I had it on the day before the water heater in my bathroom fell off the wall. And somehow the day after, all such confidence was completely gone. Perhaps some other disaster awaits just around the corner, one even worse than smashed toilets, flooding, and leaky bathtubs. And those disasters might leave indelible marks upon my life that will change me forever. We live our lives in an open system, one in which we are continually interacting with everything that’s around us. You simply can’t insulate yourself from the world; thus future scars always remain a possibility.

I’ve had to begin listening to the hard words of Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters….” Did you hear that? When! It’s kind of a promise that the waters will come—be they in the form of bathroom floods or otherwise. So what do you do? First off, you keep reading Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not like most people’s vision of God. He’s a close God. He does not think it beneath his dignity to stoop down—way down—and walk through the mud with his children. He promises to pass through the waters with us. With us. With you. If that’s true, that changes everything.

The way that has hit me is like this: My hurt becomes his hurt. My pain becomes his pain. He feels my terror, my panic, my desperation as I stand at the raging river’s edge (or at the door of my flooded bathroom), and he doesn’t merely say, “OK, Eric, off you go into the water. I’ll be right here on the shore if you need me.” Nope, he puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “Let’s go.” If he’s asking me to walk into a raging river, he’s going in with me, which means he’ll feel firsthand what it’s like to endure the crashing waves because they’ll be crashing over him, too.

He doesn’t promise to save us from future scars. He promises to take them right alongside us. I could not imagine a more liberating truth. I can walk into anything—literally any situation you could possibly imagine—and the God who spoke every last atom in the universe into existence will be standing with me.

I’m grasping to believe. May God help my unbelief.

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