We do what we hate to do

Earlier this winter after several attempts to fix drainage problems in my downstairs bathroom, the inevitable moment arrived. I could either continue to mop up nasty toilet floods or call a plumber.

He arrived (a small victory, I may add, in downtown Toronto). He fixed the toilet. He gave me a lecture. First, don’t use three-ply toilet paper, he said.

“Second, stop tossing your dental floss into the toilet. It plugs the drains.”

It goes without saying that I passed on my learnings to my husband: “You need to immediately stop throwing your dental floss into the toilet.” For anyone married longer than a few days, what comes next is no surprise. He utterly denied having ever dropped a single piece of dental floss into our bathroom toilet or any other toilet he may have set his eyes on in his lifetime. This marital discussion carried on for some time [fill in the various blanks].   

I wasn’t pleased a few hours later when I noticed a piece of dental floss floating in the toilet. Unpleasant marital thoughts filled my mind. Until, and I’m ashamed to admit it, I realized my beloved had not yet entered the bathroom, and since the dog doesn’t floss her teeth, and our kids long left the house, and, really, there was no other breathing creature nearby other than myself, I could come to only one stunning conclusion. I was the guilty party. My dental floss helped cause the plumbing mess.

How hard it is to break a bad habit. Even now, weeks later, I still catch myself dropping dental floss where it shouldn’t go.

Small stuff matters
This brings me, in all seriousness, to the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, where he says in despair: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

When we think about our sinful nature, collectively as church communities, in politics or individually, it’s sometimes easier to think about the “big stuff.” We think about murder, adultery, lust, debauchery, or remember the Church’s validation of Apartheid or slavery, the country’s treatment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. And, let’s be honest, when we think about the big stuff, daily little sins don’t seem that bad, really. As Leonard Cohen sings in “You Want It Darker,” released shortly before his death last year, “I struggled with some demons/ They were middle class and tame/ I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim/ You want it darker.”

Yet, more often than not, it’s the little stuff that does matter – in relationships, in churches, in politics. It matters when we boldly blame a loved one for a small error. It matters, for example, when a church community flatly refuses to play the organ – never again – when some members still love that organ. It matters when a newly elected President in the U.S. allows his spokeswoman to come up with “alternative facts” that deny the crowds attending his inauguration were measurably smaller than those attending the inauguration of former President Obama.

Christ breaks through
We commit incriminating acts (dental floss comes to mind), often without even realizing we’re doing so. Thus, we cry out with Paul, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” Wretched habits are difficult to acknowledge. We loath to admit to ourselves we feel tempted, some of us, by fear mongering ideas promoted by Conservative leadership candidate Kelly Leitch. (What’s the big deal? Why not test new immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian” values?)

Ah! It’s frustrating, isn’t it, that sinful nature and its insidious ways.

And isn’t this exactly why Christ’s love for us, for our communities and political leaders changes everything? “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life . . . nor things present nor things to come nor powers . . . nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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