After almost two decades of marriage, we have a problem. It’s not deeply distressing, nor is insurmountable. But the problem has become an irritating reality in our everyday lives.
The toilet paper roll no longer makes it onto the dispenser.
I’m not sure how it happened. For eighteen years, without effort or discussion, every new roll of toilet paper dutifully replaced its predecessor. When the empty cardboard roll could no longer serve its purpose, it followed the prescribed process and landed in the trash can.
Yet mysteriously, over the last few months, there has been a shift. Partial rolls of paper, sometimes two to three at a time, have congregated on the bathroom floor. Rarely does the new roll find its way to the dispenser. This unexpected phenomenon raises two obvious questions:
~ After so many years, how did this bad habit develop?
~ Why hasn’t someone corrected the problem?
I’ll tackle the question of origin first. I’m not sure, but I’m assuming that the child who routinely uses our bathroom made the initial move (or lack thereof). Most likely, it was not premeditated. Rather, a child with much to do and see in life can’t be bothered with such mundane details. One displaced roll led to another, and the exception became the rule.
The second question is a bit more challenging to answer. In addition to said child, two adults with combined bathroom etiquette experience of almost a century should know better. In my defense, for a while, I tried. Daily, I remedied the recurring problem. Although it hasn’t been verified, I’ll give my husband the benefit of a doubt that he tried as well. Honestly, one day, I got tired of fighting what felt like a losing battle – and I stopped. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just happened. For no good reason, I simply left the roll on the floor. More quickly accrued. The beginning of the end. And here we are.
Although trivial for some (unspeakable for others), the abandoned toilet paper rolls collecting on my bathroom floor are representative of so much more. The cultures of our families, churches, marriages, and friendships are rarely defined by lofty one-time experiences or dramatic decisions. Rather, they are formed over time. One small choice after another.
Some decisions nourish and build. Those choices are often intentionally-developed habits that come at a cost. Other decisions deplete and destroy. They are often more subtle and seem harmless enough. Over time, however, their collective pressure slowly siphons life from relationships.
If I’m not careful, the occasional exception becomes the rule.
~ When I don’t take that few seconds to look my husband in the eye and greet him when one of us arrives home.
~ When I choose to return emails rather than admiring a Lego creation, playing a game of UNO, or baking dog biscuits (my girlie’s original recipe) with a child.
~ When I chat with a friend about schedules and activities rather than risking the more vulnerable conversations about the state of their (or my) heart.
Whether we admit it or not, we’re all subject to the thermodynamic principle of entropy. The physical world is quietly, dependably eroding away. You can almost hear the haunting gasps for air from a wounded, tired universe (or church, or friendship, or marriage) that seems to be in the final stages of life…
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” T.S. Eliot The Hollow Men
Yet that is not the end of the story. As we age, there are specific ways to counteract the effects of entropy upon the human body. We fight back. We watch what we eat. We exercise. The physicist says that in order to do battle with the effects of entropy, energy from outside the system must be infused into the system over a period of time. There is hope.
The Author of all time and energy has given us a glimpse of the inevitable end. And guess what. Despite my affinity for Eliot, I’m grateful to assert that it will sound more like a wedding celebration than a whimper. We’re promised a final chapter where all wrongs are made right, all hurts are healed, and death finally dies.
“This world is beautiful but badly broken… I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story. And like every good story, there will be an ending. I love the world as it is, because I love what it will be.” N.D.Wilson Notes From a Tilt-a-Whirl
No, I don’t want to be naive regarding my small, seemingly insignificant choices. Without life and energy breathed back in, the things I take for granted can quickly deteriorate. Yet I also don’t want to make the exhausting mistake of believing that I have the ability to control my world.
Thankfully, our destiny is not one of exhaustive effort or ultimate defeat, but it is one of promise. We know the ending and it is good. Rather than living life in denial or despair, we have been invited to live in hope. And it is that very hope which can provide the “energy from outside the system to be infused into the system over time.”
As hope is transfused from our Maker’s heart into the veins of our souls, let us rest and be renewed. And from that renewal, we find strength to make different choices. To love well, to be vulnerable, to remember the “little things” that matter to others, to live the fully in the life we’ve been given.
And maybe even a new resolve to pick up and throw away the empty toilet paper roll.