It’s currently the era of the poop joke at our house. With two boys, I knew this day would come, and it is most definitely here.
My four-year-old son’s current favorite phrase is “pooped in your/his/her/its pants” and he finds a way to work this into any conversation—as a question, a retort or simply a refrain. Do not, under any circumstances, ask him, “Guess what?”
His older brother, who’s 7, thinks it’s all hilarious and is happy to join in the fun. Even I don’t really mind it, apart from wondering if this phase really does last all the way through college.
At least I didn’t really mind it until the other night at dinner when Luke was praying, as he likes to do, and in the middle of his normal thanking God for his wonderful day and for his favorite trains, he added, “And thank you, God, for burping. Thank you for pooping on the toilet. Thank you for farting.”
My eyes flew open, and I’m pretty sure those of my husband did too. Luke finished his prayer and looked at us with a big grin, waiting to see our reaction.
I’ve heard a lot of prayers out of this little guy, and in so many of the phrases he uses and even in the structure of his prayers, I can hear my own reflected. But I can assure you that I have never prayed that prayer. That one was all his.
Lots of responses flitted through my brain, such as That’s not appropriate. Or That’s a prayer for the bathroom. One of the things I normally say when the poop talk gets to be a little much is that if he wants to talk about bathroom things, he needs to go into the bathroom to do so. But do I really want to tell him he has to leave the family table to go pray in the bathroom?
Here’s the thing: I didn’t want to say anything to discourage him from praying, and I have always told him that he could tell God anything.
Although I can’t recall any specific biblical prayers about bodily functions, there are a lot that tell us we can pray about anything, for example, Thessalonians 5: 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
It doesn’t say “Give thanks in most circumstances, those which are appropriate.” It says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
Two of my favorite writers from two very different eras in the Christian tradition have touched on this topic. Julian of Norwich, writing in the fourteenth century in Revelations of Divine Love, writes that we should indeed thank God for everything, including bodily functions, out of gratitude and awe that God created our bodies to work with such efficiency. Catherine Marshall, writing in the twentieth century in Something More, felt God directing her to praise him for everything, even those things she wanted to complain about. As she did, as she praised God for things like the truck driver who knocked down her mailbox, she felt God radically changing the way she viewed those things.
All these things ran through my head as we sat there at the kitchen table, with my son’s mischievous eyes on me. So I finally said, “That isn’t necessarily the prayer everyone wants to hear at dinner when we’re getting ready to eat, but if you want to thank God for those things, why not? We’re supposed to thank God for everything.”
And then we ate.
I don’t know if my reaction surprised him or not, but he has continued to thank God for pooping on the toilet and peeing on the toilet and other variations on this theme, and with a serious voice rather than his giggly, I’m-telling-a-big-joke voice. In all honesty, I think he is truly grateful for these things because he finds them so fascinating.
Again, this prayer focus didn’t originate with me, but maybe it should have. What does it really mean to pray about everything, to give thanks in all circumstances? What else should I be including in my prayers that doesn’t usually occur to me because I think it’s too gross or too personal or too mundane?
And I’m sure I’ll consider this again tonight before bedtime as we’re thanking God again for all of these bodily functions.