It’s Not About the Toilet Paper


Across the table he sits, baiting me into an explosion. Emotions boiling, unkind words hurled in accusation, desperately trying to lure me into an argument. The tension in the air rises. Yet I sit back, unmoved and more than a little bit curious as to what he is really trying to communicate to me.

I know the problem is not the topic at hand, because it’s not about the toilet paper, or the mess in the kitchen, or the lack of money, or the in-law’s coming for dinner, or the topic of today’s meeting, or me arriving late. What I don’t know, yet, is why he’s really upset and what the underlying issue is.

I picked up this quirky saying from a marriage book years ago and it stuck with me because it’s true about communication in general. It simply is

“It’s not about the toilet paper.”

Apparently most couples will fight about which way the toilet paper end faces – inwards towards the wall (apparently a wife’s preference) or outwards (commonly the husband’s preference). Experts say that that couples will argue over and over about the toilet paper but underneath all the words, emotion and shouting the real issue is a struggle for control, resistance to or feeling overwhelmed by change, pressure to confirm to the mother-in-laws way of doing things, or a number of other valid internal struggles. Unable to identify or unwilling to deal with the real issues, many couples spend a lot of time fighting the surface level, trivial things rather than dealing with the core reasons for their behaviour.

This also happens between other members of families, in the workplace and in ministries and churches.

A friend told me of a day where all her children, who normally got on well, suddenly started getting stuck into each other for no apparent reason, all on the same day. Her peaceful home suddenly became a war zone. As she prayed for insight into this uncharacteristic behaviour, Jesus reminded her that this was the first family event since their 17 year old brother had died. Not knowing how to deal with their feelings of grief they were attacking each other. Thanks to a prompt from above, this mother called the family together to stop, talk and pray together. And peace returned.

In the workplace sometime we see a colleagues behaving aggressively, only to later discover they’ve had major stresses at home or are getting pressure from the boss. By realising they are people with their own lives, problems and feelings too, it can put their behaviour into context and we can realise it’s not really about us.

In a ministry and in the church we also need to remember that it goes beyond an underlying issue or another’s personal life. In the Kingdom of God “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

One of Satan’s favourite, and oldest tricks, is to try and bring dissension into groups of believers – be it families, churches, ministries, or denominations. He knows we are easily distracted with arguments about the toilet paper and colour of the church curtains, and then have no energy for fighting darkness and following the will of God.

My conclusion is this, when you notice yourself (or others around you) fighting about the trivial things, stop and take a moment to consider if:

1)      This is really about something else and there is an underlying issue to be dealt with.

2)      The instigator has some other problem in life and you’re just receiving the overflow of them trying to cope with that.

3)      Maybe Satan is trying to cause division and distract you away from the work you’re doing for God.

Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of an argument of something stupid? Did you discover the real cause? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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