Gurgling Sinks and a Lesson Learned from Plumbing

By Curtis K. Shelburne

For at least the 20-plus years of my pastorate here and — I now know — even longer, a minor phenomenon has been occurring in the kitchen of our church fellowship hall.

No big deal, but when you run water down the sinks in the “island” in that kitchen, a few seconds later the sinks make gurgling noises. I’d always thought that was just testimony to what I already knew — the drain line from those sinks is a tad prone to stoppages and, from time to time, needs to be roto-rooted.

But earlier today one of our elders, Charles Hamilton, stopped by. That’s not unusual. Charles stops by regularly. He’s one of those guys with a better than average helping of common sense and a wealth of experience and talent in fixing, well, just about anything. Having Charles around is the equivalent of having a full-time maintenance staff, and I’m convinced our building would have dissolved into a decaying heap long ago if not for his donation of time and talent.

So today when Charles stopped by to pour some goop-dissolving liquid down the sink drains, I wasn’t surprised, and after I thanked him, I commented, “Yeah, I’ve been hearing those sinks gurgling again.” And Charles replied simply, “Oh, that’s because they’re not vented.” What he means, for the plumbing-challenged, is that most sinks have pipes extending up from their drain pipes that go through the roof of your house and serve as vents. (That’s why — and this lesson is free — plumbers who want to clean out clogs down below your vented sink often end up on your roof.) But the church sinks in question are in the middle of an island with no walls behind them to run pipes up.

It’s good to learn things, but what bugs me is that I should’ve already known what Charles told me. I’m not up to his level of fix-it expertise, but I’ve fancied myself to be at least moderately proficient fix-it-wise. It wasn’t that long ago that I installed a sink in just such a location and was careful to install in the drain line a small under-the-counter vent valve to do passably in an island sink what a real vent does in a by-the-wall sink. Such vent valves weren’t available or weren’t used in our church kitchen when it was built years ago. So they gurgle.

Phooey! I should’ve known that! And I don’t like what not knowing it may say about the real level of my “home fix-it guy” qualifications and proficiency. For over 20 years, I’ve been hearing that sound and drawing the wrong conclusion.

But here’s a more troubling thought: Drawing the right conclusions in human relations is a far more difficult task. Yes, Mrs. So-and-so is often moody and grouchy and formidable. And, yes, Mr. So-and-so (no relation) often seems down, depressed and depressing. Those symptoms are, sadly, fairly obvious. But I wonder how often I’ve seen those signs and drawn absolutely the wrong conclusions about those people and what’s going on in their lives.

Thank God indeed, our gracious Father sees all.