A former boss once asked me to help fix a toilet (which happened to be in the woman’s restroom). Apparently the water wouldn’t stop running. I should mention at the onset I’m not a plumber. My wife and I swapped out a toilet in our first house and I’ve helped my friend Ken (a master plumber) replace a few residential toilets. By helped I mean mostly standing there nodding and saying motivating things like, “Keep up the good work, Ken,” or “A little to the left.” And even if I had more time in the field, commercial toilets are a different breed.
It’s goes without saying that fixing plumbing, electrical and/or mechanical systems was not a part of my job description in the aforementioned place of employment. I was an office dweller. But it was a church which means it was not uncommon for the lines of responsibility to get blurry.
The head maintenance technician was offsite so they patched him in remotely. This meant the instructions were coming to me second-hand. He told me to locate and turn a large hex bolt attached to the water supply coming from the wall (there were actually two bolts which proved important).
At the first turn water began to drip from the under-side of the bolt. I was told this was normal. By the next turn it started to spray, like a thumb over a garden hose. Apparently still normal. One final turn and the bolt sprung free, releasing a torrent that blasted me in the chest. As I stumbled out of the way I observed the water pressure was strong enough to span the full length of the bathroom.
The water level quickly began to rise around my feet, (at roughly the same rate as the panic rising in my ribcage). The other staff members fled and I was left to fight the flood on my own. Out of pure desperation I splashed around looking for the rouge bolt. I guess I thought I may be able to replug the hole. The icy spray stung my eyes as I struggled to force the bolt back in place. I dropped it several times, once in the toilet.
Right about now I am remembering how the ancient Biblical authors often used the language of raging, chaotic waters and sea serpents to describe and make sense of the unseen forces of evil in the world.
Anyway, I continued my valiant, yet fruitless, campaign for what felt like a long time until a coworker finally reached the water main and cut off the supply. It is a massive understatement to say my efforts were futile. But in the moment they felt legitimate. When placed in a situation that is quickly spiraling, the instinct is to regain control.
But what if we stopped striving. I’m not saying do nothing. Don’t stand there and let the water bore a hole in your chest. But rather than God- less self-saving, what if we sought help. What if we would acknowledge the beast is bigger than us and reach out to the one who knows how to beat it.
NOTE: At the risk of trying to squeeze too much out of this toilet metaphor, I’d like to offer one more take away for anyone faced with a seemingly unsolvable problem. Turns out there is wisdom in shifting our focus from plug- ging leaks to locating and addressing the source.