5 Things I Learned About the Spiritual Life From Potty Training
This summer I started potty straining my 3 year old. Lest you think that with all of my experience in the potty training world, I can look at a child and they spontaneously run to the bathroom…I am still potty training my 3 year old. With all of the time I’ve had engaging in this activity however, I have had the opportunity to reflect on how many aspects of potty training actually reflects my relationship with God. Yes, I am taking spiritual childhood, perhaps a little literally, but if it doesn’t help me understand my relationship to my Father, it does help me bite my tongue a little more often when I am dealing with the ever frustrating saga of potty training.
You Get an “A” for Effort. The first day of training, my son voluntarily sat on the potty every ten minutes declaring “I Need to Go Potty!” The truth was, he had no idea what needing to go potty felt like at that point but he loved the attention. Nevertheless, his eagerness was incredibly endearing. Despite the fact that even with all of that time in the bathroom he didn’t have a single success, I went to bed with a smile on my face and permanently invested to help him progress. He had tried. I’m pretty sure that when we make a resolution to grow in virtue or make an attempt to develop a deeper relationship with our Father in heaven, no matter our success rate, God smiles on us. He loves our effort and rest assured will be quick to shower down many inspirations and consolations to aid us in our struggle.
Expect Accidents. Anyone who has ever embarked on a mission of toilet training, does so with some trepidation. Why? We expect failure, at least initially anyway. We are not shocked or scandalized when it happens, rather we see it as a necessary part of the education. Our Father fully expects us to struggle and fail occasionally, if not frequently, as we try to live our faith. He gave us the sacraments precisely because we need the help of grace to make any progress and even then, we will need to start again. There is a reason confession and the Eucharist are so available…we really need them often. We should try not to be so defensive of our misdeeds and perhaps it will helps us not take others sins as a personal affront either. We are all toddlers.
Your Response to Accidents Matters. Accidents are gross and embarrassing. There are many ways of coping psychologically as a toddler, with the fact that they have failed. Some kids are instantly upset and disturbed, others like to pretend that nothing happened. As a mother, I am infinitely more irritated when I encounter my trainee happily splashing in a puddle of his own bodily fluid than when he is earnestly trying to make it to the bathroom but hasn’t quite planned enough time. In the spiritual realm, for most of us it’s a mixed bag. There are sins that we commit that we instantly abhor and regret, and there are sins that we might want to pretend that they are really not so bad. Sins against temperance are especially tempting to splash around in —the extra drink at a party, spending a little more than we really should on things we may not really need, lingering too long on social media when our kids need our attention or chores need to be done. The best way I have found to curb my temptation to splash is a nightly examination of conscience.
You’re Not Done Yet. We all reach a critical point when potty training when we have to decide if our toddler is ready to go out into the great wide world without a pull-up. No matter how successful they have been at home, bring a change of clothes. The same goes for the spiritual life. No matter how much progress we make in putting certain faults behind us, we are fragile. Things that we think we have conquered, when tested in a new setting may still prove to be a challenge. If we have recourse to our guardian angels, they will help us avoid occasions of sin that will set us back in our relationship with our Lord.
You WILL get there. It may seem like potty training will never end, when there will never come a day when you won’t have to nervously check-in. It does happen though, even for the most stubborn and willful toddler. Ultimately, it comes down to them accepting the proper order of things and realizing that they are happier that way.
Hmmm….a perfectly aligned intellect and will, it sounds like….heaven!