By Bethany Riehl
I assume by now that you are tired of hearing about toilet paper. Me too, my friends. Me too.
And yet, here I am with more talk of toilet paper and viruses and preparedness. But the Lord taught me something at the beginning of all of this, and I believe it’s vital. May I share with you my Toilet Paper Parable?
In February, I skipped my regular Costco run. We had plenty of everything we needed and I wanted to save money. When the first payday of March came around, I had every intention to make a trip as my supplies were dwindling down. Then a friend posted a picture of the crazy lines and I decided to skip it and wait a few days. Little did I know that would turn into a couple of weeks!
I avoided shopping as long as I could. Coffee is actually what led me to the store before toilet paper (priorities, am I right?). But I did also need toilet paper. I gathered my resolve, drove to Costco, parked, and sat in my car a moment to pray and prepare myself.
“Lord, I simply ask you to provide for my needs today.” That’s what I wanted to remember — that He would care for my needs, and my idea of needs are not always lined up with His.
As I walked through the full parking lot, I saw many people leaving with two packages of toilet paper and I felt both a flutter of fear and of optimism. Fear because I have actual anxiety at the thought of trying to get to something before everyone else. I knew there was a chance that the store wouldn’t have what I needed and I was okay with that (sort of) as long as I didn’t have to fight anyone for it — or, rather, feel like I was pushing in for it. I would never fight someone for something.
As I walked in the door, my emotions flip-flopped when the greeter told me that all of the toilet paper was out (they had been stocked when they opened and then immediately cleaned out). I was relieved and then frustrated. No longer faced with the need to rush to the back, I went about my regular shopping,
And here is where I had to face my own sinful nature. I passed multiple carts with two packages of toilet paper. I had come to the store with only the desire to fulfill my need. I had no plans to stock up. The fact that everyone I passed had two packs got my blood boiling and the internal screaming turned to high volume.
“Seriously?” I thought to myself. “Does he/she really need two? How many more people could have been taken care of if everyone only took one? People are so selfish!”
My tirade came to a screeching halt when I caught myself just about to ask a woman if she would please quit being a hoarder and share. My lips were curled and the snark was about to fly. Thankfully, that whisper that I know intimately as the Holy Spirit stopped me cold. I needed to turn my focus from others’ carts and into my own heart.
Why on earth did I instantly walk in judging everyone around me? For all I knew the woman I nearly gave a piece of my mind might have a large family or needs that I wasn’t aware of. Who was I to think I deserved toilet paper more than her?
It’s amazing how much uglier our own sin looks on someone else.
I stopped to take a few deep breaths and remind myself of my prayer in the car. Much more calm, I found the vitamins I needed and was reminded of my favorite woman of faith in her most desperate time of need.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom shares her own struggle with sin and selfishness in much more dire circumstances. While in Ravensbruck concentration camp, she speaks of unimaginable conditions. Standing for hours before dawn in the bitter cold for roll call, starvation, cramped quarters, lice, sickness, and death. At one point she realized she was turning more and more to survival at all costs. She would push to the center of the roll call ranks so that she and her sister Betsie would be guarded from the wind; she hid the yeast compound a nurse had smuggled to them under her pillow until the lights were out so that only Betsie could use it; when an extra blanket was issued, Corrie didn’t want to share with those who had none. She told herself that she was protecting Betsie. Precious, beautiful Betsie, who, in spite of her own frail health, was ministering to countless women in that awful place. They were there, Corrie rationalized, to do God’s work for the others. They prayed with women and held nightly Bible studies, after all. It’s not as if they were anything like the soldiers around them, tormenting — even killing — innocent people.
But then she writes this, “Oh, this was the great ploy of Satan in that kingdom of his: to display such blatant evil that one could almost believe one’s own secret sins didn’t matter.”
How easy is it, Christian, to see the world around us in the grips of sin and destruction and tell ourselves that one extra case of toilet paper is nothing compared to what we read in the news? How easy is it, Christian, to be the one to miss out on the toilet paper and feel completely in the right to boil with anger toward those who took two? How easy is it, Christian, to rationalize selfishness, no matter how small it may seem?
I spent the rest of my trip thinking of Christians throughout history who have given completely of themselves for the sake of others. Before this outbreak, I heard of a bad drought in China that has many people on the brink of starvation. Christians there are giving their neighbors the only food they have because that is exactly what Jesus requires of His followers.
I thought, too, of the story I read about a pastor on the Titanic. After getting his wife safely into a life boat, he spent his time on the ship as it went down witnessing to others. When it sank, he swam to a man to ask if he believed in Jesus. The man said no and indicated he wasn’t interested. The pastor gave the man his life vest and said, “You need this more than I do,” before swimming to the next person. As he drowned, he held his head above the water shouting for all to turn to Jesus to be saved.
The man with his vest survived and came to know the Lord because of the pastor’s sacrifice.
We are living in a time where panic rises quickly over the slightest discomfort. Now, please don’t hear me say, “The virus is no big deal; calm down.” Please don’t hear me say that. I have a fragile, sick mother who is at very high risk of death if she contracts this virus.
What I pray you’ll hear me say is this: Christian, this is when we put our money where our mouth is. God is our fortress and our strength; a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). He did not promise us health, wealth, or prosperity. Our time for absolute peace and security will come, but not here.
Instead of stocking up, maybe we should pray for how to help. Can we share? Do our neighbors have needs that might inconvenience us but greatly benefit them? We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It seems the Church has gone commercial in recent years. Some even claim they can teach you to heal, to interpret dreams, to speak in tongues, and participate in heaven tourism — for a price. (FYI, you can’t teach or plan gifts of the Spirit. He moves in His time alone.) Jesus did not promise an easy life here. He promised trials (John 16:33) and persecution for the believer. That’s exactly what He experienced on our behalf; why do we think we deserve better? (Matthew 10:16-42)
When I say all this, I realize that a person who doesn’t believe might wonder why we would follow a God like this? One that requires sacrifice, selflessness, love at all cost? The world offers better, it would seem, if we would live for ourselves.
The reason we follow this Jesus, this God of ours, is because we know there’s more coming. He was tortured and killed and buried on our behalf, yes. But then, on the third day, He rose. He conquered death and sin and wiped our slates clean, if we believe in His Name. There is a wonderful world coming. Of feasting, of peace, of joy, of light, of being in the presence of the Triune God forever. No more death, or pain, or suffering.
God’s ways are not like ours. We have to allow His spirit to guide us away from our own flesh. Where we would hoard and scramble, He would have us share and exude the peace He alone can give. In His world, death, suffering, and destruction can be tools, if we trust Him with them. He can use how we behave to bring others into His kingdom. And that is far more important than that closet you now have full of paper products.
Oh, one more thing, lest you think this God we serve doesn’t hear or care about our frail humanity. When I made my way to the back of the store for paper towels (they weren’t out of those that day), they had just unloaded another shipment of toilet paper. I gladly took one pack, told the very tired worker that I appreciated her, thanked the Lord for His provision, and moved on.
Stay safe, my friends; but even more, stay open to the work of the Holy Spirit. He is much bigger than all of this, and we have this glorious hope: “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was laying.’” (Matthew 28:5,6)
Bethany Riehl loves to write stories and articles that explore the complexities of relationships and encourage readers in their relationship with Jesus. She joyfully serves in the children’s ministry at her church, teaches at a homeschool co-op, and drinks more coffee than necessary to keep up with her only-slightly-crazy life. She is the author of four Christian fiction novels and now lives in Meridian with her spunky kids and very handsome hubby.