The God of the Bathroom Floor
I have heard many names for God, but I heard one name recently that was new to me: our God, the God of the bathroom floor.
Have you come to know the God of the bathroom floor, the God who comes to meet us in crises situations, when we are desperate and alone?
I came to learn of this name for God through the story of Glennon Doyle Melton. In her memoir Love Warrior, she writes about addiction, parenthood, marriage struggles and finding herself. She starts off writing about her happy childhood as the daughter of a two-parent home, yet as she grows into an adult she becomes more and more aware of societal expectations of her and how she does not fit them. To cope with this disconnect, she develops various addictions to food, alcohol and drugs. Then one day, when Glennon is in her mid-twenties, she finds herself sitting on the bathroom floor with a positive pregnancy test. Glennon tells of sitting on that bathroom floor, with her hands shaking and her pants dirty. She says, of the moment, “So many things are true at once: I am empty, alone, addicted – and still invited.”
Invited to change her entire way of being. Invited to say yes to God. Invited to experience life made new.
How would she respond?
Glennon’s story reminds us that in our most surprising moment God shows up, God is present with us. Our God is the God of the bathroom floor.
That’s true not only for us and for Glennon but also for the Israelites in today’s story, who find themselves in crisis. Forced to live away from their homes by their Babylonian captors, the Israelites describe their time in Psalm 137 by saying: “By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept, remembering Zion [or Jerusalem]. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors taunted us to sing our songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ But how could we sing a song of God in a foreign land?”
This psalm paints for us the heartbreak that the Israelites experienced in Babylon as displaced refugees of war. In exile, they dreamed of returning to their land, telling stories of the glorious Temple that had been destroyed before they left. In exile, they saw visions of their homecoming as they longed eagerly to be reunited with that which they loved.
When the Babylonian empire fell to the Persian one, the Persians allowed the Israelites to return home and return home they did, with high hopes. Yet when they had arrived, they found their houses, their fields, their Temple in ruins.
What would they do?
They decided to start by fixing up their houses. Maybe, they thought, once we have our lives in order, when both our homes and lives are impressive and neat, then we will be ready to build the Temple of God. Yet, as they worked, a drought hit and crops started failing and the people were hungry. They began to despair, wondering, if they could not even get their homes in order, how could they hope to accomplish anything else?
Disappointment set in. Resentment set it. Fear set in.
Yes, these were a people in crisis. A people on the figurative bathroom floor.
The prophet Haggai came to them and said, “What are you waiting for? You have forgotten that which will carry you through: your faith, your Temple, the House and Dwelling Place of God.”
Like a fuzzy dream, the Israelites remembered the times they had dreamed of peace and a Temple restored. With fragile new hope, they began to rebuild it, stone by stone. Yet, as they built, the Temple did not look how they had imagined it would look. They remember the stories that talked about how big the Temple was, and how many people used to fill it and how intricate the details were. This Temple was small, unfunded and, if they were to be honest a bit cockeyed.[i]
Would this really be a place where God would want to dwell?
They weren’t sure.
Were they really ready to build this Temple, they wondered.
Maybe not. Being ready requires something of us. It requires us to have our act together. To show our best selves. In contrasts, the Israelites didn’t have enough money, people or expertise. Who were they to build a Temple on the very spot that Solomon in all his splendor had built his? “Doesn’t it seem like nothing in comparison?” They remarked.
It was at this precise moment that Haggai the prophet speaks these words of God: Take courage! I am with you as I promised I would be when you came out of Egypt and my Spirit remains among you. Do not be afraid. A little while from now and I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. I will shake all the nations and the treasures of all the nations will flow in and fill this Temple with glory. The new glory will surpass the old and in this place I will give peace.
When God says that God will shake the heavens and the earth, God is inviting the people to see the bigger picture, the truth that how things are now are not how things will be forever.
Do not be afraid.
My friend reminds me that, in the Bible, “Do not be afraid” is code for: things are about to change. In this case, God is saying, the Temple as you know it will not be replicated but it will be transformed into something new.
Do not be afraid.
Maybe things do not look how you expect.
Yet God is at working transforming the ruins into something beautiful.
Perhaps you do not yet know what to do with the ruins that you bear witness to, but the thing about God is that God comes to us before we are ready and invites to begin. God reminds us that we don’t have to have our homes, lives or neighborhoods in order for God to show up. God shows up in the midst of our hardest moments and says: I am with you.
Do not be afraid.
Just like with the Israelites, God comes and meets us in moment of crises, moments when we are heartbroken, afraid, disappointed, moments when it feels like everything we have ever known has been shaken to its very foundation.
In those moments, God comes to us and says, “Take courage. I am with you. Do not be afraid. I will give you peace.”
That is because our God is the God of the bathroom floor, as Glennon’s story reminded us.
As Glennon sits there on that floor, wrestling with her own sense of unworthiness, she remembers this soft, beautiful painting of Mary and baby Jesus that she had seen. In the painting, Mary looked upon her with these tender eyes of inviting her into relationship. Through her gaze, Mary had passed out forgiveness and grace like it was a free for all. You didn’t have to do anything for it … it was just there … Free for all.
As Glennon reflects on that phrase “free for all” it occurs to her that grace is truly free for all… free even for her and, in that moment, grace and love flood over her. There is nothing she needs to do, achieve or be to receive it. Suddenly something inside her says yes to the idea that there is God and that that God is trying to speak to her, trying to love, trying to invite her back to life. Glennon decides to believe in a God who would believe in a person like her.
In that moment, Glennon takes as her Savior the God of the bathroom floor, the God of scandalously low expectations, the God who says to us, in our worst moments, “There you are. I’ve been waiting. Are you ready to make something beautiful with me?”
In that moment, Glennon becomes a believer. She says, “I will rise to meet this call.”
God says to the Israelites, to Glennon, and to us today: “Take courage. I am with you. Do not be afraid. I will give you peace.” Even in our most trying moments.
For the God we serve is not just the God of the fancy temples but the God of the cockeyed temples, of the failed crops, and of the times we find ourselves in crisis on the bathroom floor.
For God takes what we have and transforms it, making something beautiful. As Haggai tells the Israelites, the glory of the new Temple will surpass the old.
Do not be afraid.
Take courage. Keep building. Keep journeying. Keep showing up. Even if you are not yet ready. For God is at work in you making a new creation.
Thanks be to God!
[i] From the lectionary commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3053