A few years ago, I found myself huddled in an emergency room, wrapped in an oversized sweatshirt, waiting for my name to be called.
I didn’t have the flu, and I hadn’t broken, sprained, cut or dislocated anything.
Instead, I was at the hospital for a somewhat unusual reason.
I couldn’t pee.
For three days, my body had been unable to perform one of its most basic tasks. The muscles involved had mysteriously seized; trip after trip to the restroom yielded no result. My abdomen swelled, and by the time I reluctantly drove myself to the emergency room, I’d stopped drinking fluids, fearing I might burst.
“You look like you’re six months pregnant,” a nurse observed as she prepared to catheterize me.
“Is this really necessary?” I asked, referring to both the procedure she was about to perform and to her remark.
“Catch up on some ‘Law & Order’ reruns while you drain,” she said, handing me the television remote.
After I was released from the hospital, I had to continue wearing the catheter for another week, until a urologist could examine me more fully. While I was thankful for the relief it offered, I pleaded with God that if he saw fit to heal me, I would never again take for granted my body’s eliminatory functions.
It ultimately took two surgeries to correct the issue (large uterine fibroids had obstructed my urethra), and to this day, I silently give thanks every time nature calls and I can respond properly.
Now, the restroom is probably the last place in which you’d expect to praise God. Bathroom activities are not the stuff of polite conversation, and most Christians don’t meditate on how Jesus handled such matters during his earthly ministry.
But if you look a little more closely, you’ll find that even our humblest actions serve to glorify the Lord.
Our bodies filter waste from our bloodstream through the kidneys, which produce urine that the bladder then collects and passes. The very act of going “number one” is an affirmation of the blood’s power to nourish and the kidneys’ ability to cleanse. Anyone who has had kidney problems — from infections and stones to end-stage failure requiring dialysis or transplants — can attest to the vital role of these bean-shaped organs.
In the Old Testament, the kidneys — kelayot — were often symbolic of a person’s “temperament, emotions, prudence, vigor, and wisdom,” writes Dr. Garabed Eknoyan, a nephrologist at Baylor College of Medicine.
The first English translators of the Bible rendered the Hebrew word kelayot as “reins,” and current translations tend to use “heart” or “mind,” but the Hebrew texts recall an ancient regard for these hidden organs as representing the deepest part of a person, a part known to God alone: “I, the Lord, explore the mind and test the heart …” (Jeremiah 17:10).
In that secret space, our God-given bodies sift through the blood, keeping only what sustains. In the daily release of toxins and waste, we’re reminded quite vividly of our need to let go of those things that no longer serve the purposes of life and wholeness.
We may require assistance (such as medications, catheters or surgery) to pass that waste, but pass it we must; there is no room for retention, or the blood can become poisoned.
Given the number of times in a day that we visit the restroom, most of us probably don’t dwell on either the physiology of this bodily function or its spiritual lesson. But maybe we should, if only to recall that our God is so intimate that he speaks to us even in our most private moments, and leads us to praise him because we are indeed “wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia.