The parable of the lost toothbrush – on who we can become



Once upon a time I was not a sleep deprived father of four.  And back then someone once explained to me how things change as you have more children.  “Take spoons,” they said. “If you’re feeding your first baby with a spoon and it falls on the floor, you sterilise it, and get a freshly sterilised spoon out.  If it’s your second baby, you just pick the spoon up, give it a lick, and carry on feeding the baby.  If it’s your third, you pick the spoon up, let the dog lick it, and carry on feeding the baby.”

At the time I thought they were joking. I have reconsidered this viewpoint since.  We don’t have a dog, but I now have no reason to believe that this was an exaggeration in any way.

Lost and found

But there are some fields where even I have to adopt a stricter approach, as is the case with the lost toothbrush.

Let me explain.  Many months ago, Elías lost his toothbrush.  We asked where it was and he explained – as if we were a little dull – that it was in the garden.  We looked, but try as we might, we could not find it…

A few days ago, however, I was sitting in the lounge, sipping coffee, when Oliver burst in exclaiming “I got it! I got it!”

“Got what?” I enquired.  (But you’re way ahead of me)

“The toothbrush!  It’s been stuck inside the leg of the sand-table!”

Now, let us be realistic.  The toothbrush was in the state you’d expect for one stuck in the leg of a sand-table for months on end.  It was infused with bits of grass and sand and moss and mould.  It was covered with mud and sludge and slime and goo.  It was putrid.  It was fetid.  It stank.  And slugs had been slithering on it.

Forget my laissez-faire approach to using spoons when they fall on the floor.  This was not a toothbrush that was going in anybody’s mouth.  You could wash it.  You could sterilise it.  But nothing was ever going to take away the image of that dripping, rank and vile object that Oliver held proudly aloft.  And, I suspect, nothing was ever going to take away the taste…

Past and future

And suddenly I realised like never before how simply mind-boggling the thing we call “grace” is.  Most of us feel that there are things in our past which mess us up. “Grace” is what puts us right again. A few thousand years ago, the language that was used was that God washes us “whiter than snow”.  For those of us who live in the modern world, we probably think of the off-grey sludge that covers our cities for a few weeks in winter.

So let me offer this alternative: If our lives were a toothbrush then, no matter how clogged up they have become with grass and sand and moss and mould, no matter how obscured by mud and sludge and slime and goo, God washes it so clean that you’d – metaphorically – put it in your mouth again.

We’re not just picked up and dusted down a bit, with a reluctant “that’ll do”.  We are restored to being like new.  Our past – as they say – does not need to define our future.  And if we ever catch ourselves thinking we can never do something because of where we’ve been…well, if picturing a shiny new toothbrush helps, then go for it.  Because grace really is that good.


© Text and Pictures 2013 Paul Brownnutt

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Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Today’s post is brought to you by Isaiah 1:18