a voice crying out in the postmodern wilderness

Rethinking Garbage Service

Rethinking Garbage Service

We recently moved into a new house. It's our fifth house in 11 years of marriage, not because of job transfers but because we're gypsies. Anyway, we've got this moving thing down, and one thing that inevitably comes toward the end of a move it trash. Lots and lots of trash. Like villages of trash.

You know how sometimes as a human you have moments where you realize what you're doing is weird? You wonder what God thinks about your behavior or what you would think if you visited another planet and saw someone doing what you're doing. Just me? Okay, then. Well, taking the trash out the other day was just such a moment. 

So in my part of the world - that is, suburban Texas - we have trash service. So that means you consume a bunch of stuff and then leave the unwanted parts in a pile for someone else to pick up. Lions do this, too - but their refuse biodegrades or gets eaten by scavengers. We humans have created a bunch of products which don't biodegrade (I hear my Dad saying "styrofoam!"). Either that or they will biodegrade but we don't want to sit around and watch them rot. We want them to go elsewhere, now.

So, in a nutshell we put our garbage out because we don't want it. Be gone, trash. I require a property with clipped grass and chirping birds and perfectly operational plumbing. I require my property to be like the Garden of Eden, so trash be gone.

It doesn't disappear, though. It has to go somewhere. And someone has to pick it up. So my comfort is brought about by putting discomfort on others. My portion of trash is strewn about the landfill, which once used to be a pretty field somewhere outside of town. My vile refuse must be handled by another person first. This is a bizarrely entitled activity if you really think about it.

It's not just physical garbage that we pawn off on other people though, is it? We pawn all sorts of garbage off on people. You know those people who drone endlessly about their problems or opinions on social media (you might be one of them, and if so please stop)? Or how about the person at work who you just know is going to lean in your doorway and tell you about their issue with so and so. We like to transfer our garbage - be it physical or emotional - on other people. Here, take it. I don't want it anymore. It'll biodegrade in one million years, don't worry.

I don't have a solution on the physical side of things. I understand why some people get all crusader on this topic and drive tiny cars and start talking about people's carbon footprint. We humans are a real problem to the earth, and I'm not here with the solution. 

Let's talk about emotional and spiritual garbage, then.

First of all, we need to stop throwing our emotional and spiritual (let's call this "internal" garbage) to the curb at every opportunity. We don't need to share everything with everyone at every moment. That's not cathartic; it's annoying. Think before you post or before you dump your stuff on unsuspecting people.

Do we just stuff it down inside us, then? All the anger, all the pain, all the self-loathing - do we just jam it down inside us and never talk about it? Well, much like my backyard can only hold so much trash so too your soul has a limit. You'll get bloated and go septic inside. Also a bad solution.

There's a third path here, and it's the one that actually works:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Let's take this in 3 phases:

1. Humble yourself. Stop and realize your problems are not the worst in the world. It can always be worse, unless you're Jesus on Calvary. It can never be as bad as what he endured by putting on the sins of the world while being tortured. That's worse case. Remember that you're small and God is big and this is a great big world with lots of problems. Humble yourself, and stop the drama.

2. Sit under the mighty hand of God. I like in the Psalms where it says "in the shadow of your wings". Don't you love that idea? God is a warrior king, and you sit in his shade. He knows what's going on in your life. Your depression, your divorce, and the death of your favorite Labrador are not trivial to him. He cares deeply for you.

3. Cast your internal garbage on the Lord. Your stuff is biodegradable in God's hands. He can melt it or he can play spiritual judo with it and turn it into joy. God is not a landfill, but rather an artist who will take your troubles and tinker with them until they are a mosaic of beauty. Go ahead and leave it at his doorstep - that's where your internal struggles belong.

It is okay to talk about our troubles and to vent them. It is necessary, even. We need other people to process through our junk. But that's best done with some forethought. Young children do not need the weight of adult problems. Your spouse may or may not need to hear everything bad going on inside you. This is where I recommend gender-specific friendships and pastoral relationships.

Let me digress for a moment.

I have been a part of a men's group for years now. The groups have changed, but my week is marked by getting up early with men who love Jesus and drinking coffee while we talk about God and life and what not. I need a group like this. Even when it seems like I don't need it, that's when I need it the most. And the reason I say gender-specific is best is because, contrary to common postmodern thought, men and women are really different. And that means our problems are different. Further, at least for these deep and vulnerable aforementioned conversations, it removes the awkwardness of trying to look cool or say it right or whatever. With my guys, I can just say it. I know my wife does the same with her girl friends.

Digression over. God is our primary outlet for getting rid of our internal garbage. We cast our anxieties on him. And think about it - all of our problems are really anxieties. If we have cancer, we're anxious that we'll die. If our job is in question, we're anxious that we'll end up homeless. If our marriage is rocky, we're anxious that it won't get better. And so on. Anxieties are really what plague us. And anxieties are actually not rooted in circumstance, but actually in a heart not yet fully believing God's promises are true. Let that sink in.

As we place our garbage at God's feet in prayer and whatever other means you like to use (I like to draw and paint, for example - this is an outlet for me), we need not only give him our internal garbage but we need to ask something of him: belief

Would you pray with me?

Lord, we have tons of garbage. Piles of it. We made it through our sin and laziness and sometimes other people created it but God we live in a dirty place and we are in need of deep healing. Cleanse our lives with the crystal waters of your presence. Forgive us for our unbelief and help us to believe, because our lack of faith has made a mess of our souls. Our problems are new and surprising to us, but not to you. You saw them coming before you made dirt. Take them into your heavenly workshop and turn them into tools of joy. And whether it rains or shines, we will, because of your work in us, trust you. Amen.

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