Karen Estep explains how potty training her son helped her reflect on her first Confession.
I am currently in the throes of potty training my very stubborn 4-year-old son. He is so smart, extremely active, and this is our last hurdle with him still in the toddler realm, at least I hope. He is our youngest and our last, and I will admit I baby him more than I really should. However, he cannot move up to the PreK class until he is potty trained. So, my summer mission has been clear for a while: get him to use the potty!
And when I say stubborn, I’m talking: we have bribed, we have threatened, we have begged and pleaded, we’ve probably shed a few tears, and at this point we’ve offered to clean out our 401k because it may be cheaper to buy him a helicopter than keep buying diapers. No joke, we’ve (being silly) told him we would buy him a helicopter … he also has very good taste in chocolate, I might add, because his treat when he does use the bathroom has been either a Lindor truffle or a Ghirardelli chocolate square.
So, while I sit and wait for him to actually use the potty, I have had a lot of time to reflect on what this is teaching me.
One reflection I have gained from this experience is: potty training my son and going to my first Confession as an adult have a lot of similarities!
Let me explain:
- One reason my son does not want to go to the bathroom is because it takes time away from what he really wants to do. He doesn’t want to stop the show or his game to get up, use the restroom, wash his hands, get his treat, and go back to what he was doing. How many times have we as adults used that same excuse? I simply do not have time to go to church, confess, say my prayers, and so on? In reality, it literally took me 5 to 10 minutes to complete my first Confession and another 5 to 10 minutes to reflect and pray after (while at church, I continue to reflect on what our priest said to me that night). That’s it … I spend more time than that scrolling through my emails looking at all the sales that I just absolutely have to buy something from.
- Another correlation is that it’s just easier to sit in our sin, much like my son will sit in his used pull-up. This goes back to the time excuse. We just don’t want to give up our time, much like my son just doesn't want to stop playing, so he sits in his pull-up rather than give up his time. It is just more convenient for him to walk around in a used pull-up and we are absolutely doing the same thing with our sin. We’re sitting in it, we’re walking around in it, and rather than stop and receive absolution, we just keep on going.
- Since my son is 4, I think one of his obstacles keeping him from potty training fully is that he wants to be my baby forever. If he potty trains, that means he is growing up ... and growth is hard. Becoming a big boy, for a 4-year-old, is hard. Going to Confession is hard; it means that you’re taking responsibility for your sin and asking God to help you grow as a person. Growth in any situation can be difficult and not something we always want to do.
- The last way I reflected on potty training being similar to my first confession is that there is this underlying fear of the unknown. My son struggled with not knowing what to do, when to do it, and everything felt new to him. Due to my Protestant background and the lack of needing a priest to guide us through absolution, I had no real intention of doing confession because it was a foreign concept to me. However, I love our priest. He has completely embraced my family, helped guide us, and accepted us where we are right now. To be honest, I was terrified that by telling him my confession he would be so disappointed in me and I would let him down. My fear of not knowing what to expect and letting our priest down kept me from receiving this beautiful sacrament.
Confession was my last sacrament to complete before taking the Eucharist. In all honesty, I put it off until a week or two before the Easter Vigil. However, once I completed it, a whole weight was lifted off of me. I tend to carry stress in my jaw, which causes my jaw to hurt—and I tend to have nightmares where all of my teeth fall out because all of my stress is carried in my mouth. After I left the confessional, all of the stress I was carrying there was gone. My jaw hasn’t felt that good since then and I can tell I need to go back to Confession again soon.
Jesus isn’t offering us chocolate treats one we finally get up, take our pride (pull-up) off, and confess our sins. Jesus is offering us so much more. He is offering us His absolute forgiveness, cleansing, and in some cases physical healing too, especially when we carry stress throughout our bodies. My husband said after his first Confession, his back and shoulders felt so much better.
Just like potty training, spiritual growth and healing take time. And just like with potty training, when I am clapping and telling my son how proud I am that he has finally gone in the potty, I’d like to think all of the saints, Mama Mary, and Jesus are doing the same for me when I leave the confessional.
Copyright 2022 Karen Estep
About the Author
Karen Estep is the host of the podcast Stand, Kneel, Now What? In coming home to the Catholic faith as an adult she hopes to share her love of the Church on a daily basis. Karen has been shown many graces through the Sacraments even through all of her blunders. She hopes to help other adults navigate their faith journey as well.