She almost hit me with the door as I was exiting the restroom of a company where I serve as a corporate chaplain.
She’s the one in the front office who usually smiles when I come by.
“How are you doing?,” I asked, as she shut the door to her stall. “Welcome to the chaplain’s office,” I joked, as I checked my hair in the mirror, waiting for her to answer.
Then, for the first time she told me- really told me. In the women’s restroom, she told me about her teenaged son who was failing geometry and hanging with the wrong crowd and had taken up smoking- who could wind up in jail if he’s not careful. About her own failings as a mother. About mistakes made long ago that still haunted her. An out-of-wedlock pregnancy before the age of twenty. Single motherhood. She wanted better for her son, but now she was afraid he’d come up against the same, old deadends.
“Can I pray with you?”
In the women’s restroom, tucked safely away from the swell of more work, nosy colleagues and a world of smiling “I’m fines,” we bowed our heads, asking for Jesus’ help.
The other day I again found myself praying in the bathroom, this time on the toilet seat.
My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter was perched across from me on her potty. We were waiting for #2, which wasn’t to arrive. (My daughter prefers hardwood floors in unsuspecting corners of the house to “strain the old potatoes,” as I’ve heard it said euphemistically; and, with a diagnosis most closely resembling “cerebral palsy,” she has been taking her sweet time in this necessary rite of passage.)
I won’t belabor you with the medical details, but maybe it’s enough to say that Jesus’ words about demon possession, in Mark 9:29, might be humorously apropos here: “this kind can only come out in prayer,” Jesus says of the demons, and the same might also be said about my daughter’s #2’s.
So there we were, in the bathroom, Sam crying and carrying on in anticipation of the inevitable relief to come, and Mommy, her patience and resources exhausted after months of undergoing this ritual with nothing to show for it.
That’s when I began to pray. I asked silently for God’s help, because I couldn’t do this. Because we had exercised every parental form of enticement, bribery, natural consequence and penalty to help Sam learn how to poop in the potty without success. Because it might be a very long time before Sam, like other, little girls her age, would don her crisp, new, still-in-the-package Ariel the Mermaid underwear with unsoiled (pun intended) freedom. Because this, like previous milestones in Sam’s development, was only reinforcing my worst fears- that my daughter would struggle for a lifetime to keep up with her peers. Because her slowness in speech and motor skills, while cute today, would not just be “cute” if it continued in years to come.
Nothing happened. Sam didn’t go. We sat there for 10, maybe 15, minutes, finally pulling up her pants once more with resignation.
But something had dawned on me there: because God can meet us anywhere and everywhere, God can meet us in bathrooms, too.
Now, every time my daughter and I make our way to the elegant curvature of porcelain and its beautifully crafted inner workings- one of the greatest inventions in the history of humankind (this, according to the latest Economist)- I’ll be praying for a breakthrough.
And, as I pray I’ll also be remembering every other person whose prayers have become the stuff of desperate, private pleas for help from this God who meets us in bathrooms.