Chapter 6: Sin and Diapers
It amazes me how different each of our kids is from their siblings. We believed that each child would be unique and unrepeatable and all that stuff they tell you about when you’re cutting out paper snowflakes in Catholic elementary schools, but we had no idea how little of our experience with Ellie would prepare us for Francis or later for Isaac. From their attitudes about wearing hats to the specific rituals demanded for their bedtime routine, almost nothing has been the same from one kid to the next. One of the differences we noticed early on was the kids’ attitude regarding a certain digestive event.
Ellie has always been a refined young lady. If we were out of the house when she was a baby, she simply wouldn’t poop. The one exception she’d allow for was extended trips of more than three days, because everyone has their limits. When we were at home, she would only poop if everything was calm and quiet. Francis, on the other hand, has always been very relaxed. Not even the uncomfortable position posed by his car seat could prevent him from doing his business exactly when he felt like it. Isaac’s fecal philosophy falls somewhere between Ellie and Francis, but he definitely makes the cutest “pushing” face of our three children.
Given all of the differences between our children during the diaper years, they all had one thing in common. All of them would avoid Courtney and I after they pooped. If the now relieved child was on the other side of the room, they’d waddle away as fast as their pants’ contents would allow. They’d swat our hands away as we reached out to grab them, try to kick us when we finally got them on the ground for the diaper change, and then attempt to roll themselves to either side once we had fully committed to the change, their full but open diaper rocking back and forth.
In fairness to the kids, I haven’t exactly had a perfect record of infant care. I blame my brother Don, his wife Linda, and their extremely communicative two-year-old son. Don and Linda asked me to babysit their son, Donny, when I was 11. Because I come from a large family, people sometimes expect me to possess those great skills and virtues acquired in a household where everyone helps. I am nine years younger than my closest sibling, so I never really got to learn those important lessons about sharing, generosity, childcare, and pretending to care about other people. My brother and his wife should’ve known better, but they knew I loved spending time with my nephews and nieces, so they asked me to babysit.
Donny didn’t just have a big vocabulary for a toddler, he was also incredibly thoughtful. I remember one conversation we had when he was like 4; he was asking me deep life questions and even asking good follow up questions. It’s important to establish the impressiveness of my nephew’s maturity as it’ll help salvage my defense later in the story. For the most part, the babysitting adventure went well. I was watching a few kids that evening, and all of them but one had a wonderful time. The problem started when Donny told me that he had pooped in his diaper. I knew what the desired outcome of a diaper change was, but the mechanics eluded me. He must’ve been able to read the hesitation on my face, because before I could decide on a plan to fix the problem, Donny proceeded to tell me that he could change his own diaper.
I realize how ridiculous this sounds now that I say it out loud, but please keep in mind that Donny was really good at talking. Sure, maybe I could’ve intuited that a kid who still needs to wear a diaper probably isn’t capable of cleaning himself, disposing of the old diaper, and throwing on a new one. Respecting his privacy and forsaking my responsibilities, I left Donny in the bathroom with a new diaper and a pack of wipes to get the job done. I closed the door and went to the other room to keep an eye on the other kids. After about 10 minutes I returned to check on Donny. I don’t know what I was expecting to see, but the crime scene was worse than I can describe. Apparently his expanded vocabulary wasn’t enough to prevent him from repainting the floors brown.
As a youth minister, I had the privilege of encouraging teens as they grew in their relationship with the Lord. It’s an amazing gift to have a front row seat to see God drawing someone closer to Himself, to see the transformation that happens when people encounter the love of God and surrender more and more of their lives to Him. When teenagers would ask questions about God’s mercy, I was thoroughly convinced that the Lord could easily heal their sin and that they had no reason not to approach His mercy in the sacrament of confession. At the same time, I struggled with a lingering fear that my own sin was different. It wasn’t like I was leading a double life and spending my weekends on wild sin rampages, but I felt shame in the fact that I still sinned regularly despite the fact that I should know better. I had no excuse; I knew the faith and still I struggled with habitual sin, so often falling short of loving God and others.
I feared that God the Father’s attitude toward me was one of constant disappointment. He had given me such an easy life, and yet I kept screwing up. I knew He could forgive my sin, but I figured that He must be growing tired of my repeated failures and my inability to get my act together. I would approach the sacrament of confession regularly, but I still believed that overcoming sin was a task that was mostly up to me to accomplish. Dealing with my kids’ diapers has completely changed my understanding of my sin and the Father’s mercy.
As their father, I know that my children are going to poop just about every day. I’m ready to deal with it and happy to help rid them of the excess baggage. Any delay or avoidance in letting me change them only adds to the mess. Their pretending that they haven’t pooped does nothing to distract me from the smell and the new way of walking that they’re forced to adopt. Like I learned with my nephew, there’s no chance that kids in diapers can deal with their own messes. Over time, Donny’s attempts to fix the problem without my intervention just added to the problem. One of our responsibilities as parents is dealing with diapers, and we’re happy to do it. I love my kids and I’ll chase them down if I have to so that I can get rid of the mess.
While the effects of sin are much greater than the inconvenience of bowel movements, the significance of our sin pales in comparison to the greatness of the Father’s mercy and love for us. God the Father is not disgusted by us. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy,” The Catechism of the Catholic Church illustrates the irrational progression of sin and the Father’s loving response: Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. (2567)
First we forget who God is or we feel ashamed of our sin so we hide from Him. Still we can’t escape our desire for communion and happiness, so we look everywhere else for connection and meaning. After our running away from God, we accuse Him of having abandoned us. What a good Father we have whose pursuit of us is tireless. Despite the fact that I am the one that runs away from God, He still pursues me. Despite my ridiculous accusations and my baseless questioning of the Father’s concern for me, He loves me too much to leave me alone in my sin and shame. The sacrament of confession is a beautiful moment of encounter where the ugliness of our sin meets the glory of God’s mercy. Going to confession sometimes feels like a Herculean effort for us, but in reality it is God who does the vast majority of the work. In Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth (Holy Week), he presents Christ washing the disciple’s feet as an image of the sacrament of reconciliation: “In confession, the Lord washes our soiled feet over and over again and prepares us for table fellowship with him” (74). Jesus himself takes the places of the lowest servant, bending down with a towel and a basin to wash the feet of His disciples. Saint Peter was understandably scandalized by the humility of Christ and this reversal of roles, as the perfect Son of God chose to clean the feet of men who would within hours deny even knowing Him. In Jesus washing the feet of His followers, we see an icon of the incarnation. Though He was the perfect Son of God, Jesus emptied Himself to cleanse us from the stain of sin and to reconcile us with the Father. Throughout salvation history, God the Father slowly unveiled the extravagance of His love for us. In the person of Jesus Christ, we see the full revelation of the Father’s love for His wayward children. Jesus hinted at the depths of the Father’s love in His preaching and His life. Through Jesus’ suffering and death, He embodied the totality of the Father’s generosity. The parable of the lost sheep, presented in Matthew’s gospel, illuminates the revolutionary economy of grace.
“What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” (Mt. 18:12-14)
Any sensible person would recognize the marginal value of one lost sheep relative to 99 obedient lambs. In strictly economic terms, the lost sheep isn’t worth the effort. It’s just one sheep, and a shepherd with a large flock could easily replace a few losses every season. Thankfully the Father is no ordinary shepherd, and He doesn’t just see an individual as one sheep among billions. He loves us perfectly and personally; there is no price that He wouldn’t pay to redeem us. No one else could replace you or I; our existence and our well-being matters to God. Not only does He pursue us to the ends of the earth when we stray, but He rejoices when we are found. No matter the reason for our being lost, whether it was entirely our fault or not, God will stop at nothing to rescue us.