Repentance is Like Flushing the Toilet

We all know people who maybe have a bad day and end up dumping. Even a bad week. If they’ve gone through a real mess, like getting dumped or losing a child or losing the job of their dreams, we even tolerate a bad month or two.

Person up to neck in manure.

I’d been buried under someone else’s unhappiness for years.

Only from family and unavoidable colleagues do we put up with complaining that goes on for years on end. “It’s his nature,” we remind ourselves. “The glass is always half full.” And when we leave his or her presence, we try to fill the rest of our own glass with something more tasty.

The problem, I’ve been learning recently, is that accepting all those years full of other people’s complaints is toxic. You may be helping other people deal with their crises by letting them vent, but if their stuff is piling up in you, you’re festering.

And that’s how I got to my toilet metaphor.

The Kindest, Gentlest Person to Diss Everyone

I began hearing, recently, about someone who was the kindest, gentlest, most helpful person you could ever know. This person never had a bad word to say about anyone. This person, I heard, was particularly well liked by a specific individual, whom this person (I was told) also liked a great deal.

Really? I thought — and was wise enough not to speak. Because this person has told me for more than a decade how much they despise this specific individual.

I’d heard this person shred so many people that I’d grown to dread our conversations, unavoidable because of the nature of our relationship. And correction was not possible. To be rude but frank, it was inconceivable to this person that they were dumping huge loads of shit on me about our common friends and acquaintances. Somehow, once the conversation was over, it was gone. None of it could be remembered.

Cruel Words Piled Up Like Shit in a Backwoods Privy

Meanwhile, as they cleared all their shit by dumping it in me (“Whoosh! it’s gone”), I was not managing to flush it out on my own behalf. I was functioning more like a backwoods privy that hadn’t been shoveled out in a couple of decades. It was piling up in here. It stank. There were flies buzzing around and you wouldn’t believe the septic runoff in bad weather. People were steering clear, except the ones who really, really, really needed to go. They didn’t just brave the smell: it drew them. They added to the piles of, well, you know.

All of us have great metaphors about what it means to experience metanoia: that change of heart and mind and commitment that represents a truly transformative Christian experience. We talk about how the caterpillar might feel imprisoned in the cocoon before awakening as a beautiful butterfly, able to ride the breezes. We discuss giving God access to all of the “rooms” of our life.

For me, I needed God to flush the toilet.

I was trained to accept shit from people. I was trained that accepting other people’s shit is the right thing to do. As long as I took the shit, other people could be free of it: free to be the kindest, gentlest, most helpful persons anyone ever knew.

To Clear the Shit: Flush!

No one trained me to get rid of someone else’s shit.

And it turned out to be easy. Flush.

What’s more, when I don’t want to deal with someone else’s shit, I can pretend I’m using that little electric eye device that always malfunctions at movie theaters and stadiums and arenas. So I can start flushing before they fairly get themselves settled. That usually startles them off to another stall.

So repenting of years of bitterness and anger toward people I don’t always even know is as simple as flushing a toilet.

Even a cat knows how to do that. Enjoy the video.

About Carlene Hill Byron

The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian, Carlene Hill Byron is enjoying being home in Maine after 20 years in North Carolina. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Find her at, and on Facebook at MyHouseHasHistory.
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4 Responses to Repentance is Like Flushing the Toilet

  1. Cec Barker says:

    Wow. Strong stuff.

    … my bathroom sink is getting blocked up. I’ve used ‘DeStop’ twice. Tried the wire thingie once. Checked out accessibility of the U-bend (it isn’t). OK: must get up off my chair and Deal With It Again!

    Variation on a toilet-flushing theme…?

    Hugs. Cec.

  2. As a pastor I can totally relate to being to toilet…a place where peeps go to dump the stinkiest of what they have. Unfortunately, I didn’t take good enough care of myself, & neglected to flush for about 6 years. Ugh! It took me 3 years to heal, but I think that all of the gunk is finally out of me. Your witness & counsel are helpful & solid: for the sake of ourselves & the rest of humanity, we MUST allow the Holy Spirit to flush us clean! Amen and amen!

    • Carlene Byron says:

      I’m not sure that “flushing” as a spiritual discipline is part of our seminary training! Some of us need much more concrete language to understand — which is, of course, why Jesus spoke in such concrete terms.

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