Taking Out the Trash

Author’s Note: This was a draft post written two years ago. I came across it quite by accident today while looking through my files, and I felt it resonated on this first day of 2013. Despite the year or so that has passed, (I no longer work at the co-op, and my son is now a junior) it still applies to my current state as well. 

A funny thing happened on the way to the dumpster.

Perhaps it was the slowness of the day that led my mind to wander in the direction of thinking about trash. This Friday found me at our homeschool co-op, which honestly is so well organized that it has all the trappings of a Christian academy. Along with teaching group piano class, I and all parents that are involved in the group agree to volunteer for one hour or class period. So it was no surprise that my masculinity in the midst of a majority of homeschool moms singled me out for the more brawny of tasks – lunchroom clean up.

We removed all the tables and chairs pretty quickly. But despite the calming repetitive motions of lifting, folding, and stacking, for some reason I was feeling very reflective. Our lives have had several new shifts recently, from my wife’s departure from her full time job at our previous church to begin her life as an entrepreneur, to our son’s new push for an apartment (as a college sophomore – such initiative….), to our kids’ push into full-fledged teenager-ism. I’m not sure which part of these new pressures weighed heaviest on my mind – perhaps all of them. Either way, I saw a break in the action as we waited for instructions on how to set up the room. Meanwhile, the two bins of trash from the lunchroom sat overflowing near the door. Normally our high-school volunteer boys take out the trash, but they were not here, so I took the opportunity to finish this one little job myself.

Trash normally would not inspire me to contemplate a season of life, but in this case as I rolled the bins to the receptacle, I realized many times I have headed to a metaphorical trash bin of emotions. I’ve taken feelings, goals, and conceptions and rolled them out to the refuse pile, to be thrown out with the rest of the unwanted pieces of my life.  Sometimes they were pieces that had mistakenly been lumped in with the trash – pieces of my life that simply needed polishing and cleaning up – to be what they were supposed to be. Other times, the trash was really trash – sinful, silly, and selfish scraps that needed to be swept out of my consciousness.

My point of realization was when I tied the bags, shook out the scraps from the bottom of the bin, and threw them in the dumpster. Immediately I thought about where that trash goes. Many people have bemoaned a supposed “trash catastrophe” where we run out of places to take our piles of discards. But every week our trash is picked up, and taken out of sight. There are several places in South Florida where I suppose I could track down my junk and see how it is handled, but I have no desire to do so. And as I walked away from the dumpster, I tried – literally – to remember what was in the trash. A chick-fil-a bag, a couple of jello containers – the memory faded furiously fast. It was like every step away from the dumpster erased the memory of what I had shook out just a second ago.

Yes, a simplistic picture, but a real one. I have often kept my mind on what I have thrown away, and I suspect we all have also sometimes allowed the memory of what was thrown away onto the trash heap of the past to remain, long after the Divine garbage man has picked up the junk and carted it away into nothingness. It’s like we stand at the dumpster waiting for the junk to jump back out and reclaim its place in our lives. But the mantra the dumpster taught me today is this.

Keep walking away.

My issues and what-ifs are always bargaining for a new place in my mind and spirit. But as I walk away from the place of the removal, every step erases some of that memory and, more importantly, the concern about where it went. I don’t need to worry about how my past is being dealt with – I must be content to know that if I’m willing to let it go, it will not remain in the same place. When I return with new things to be removed, there will be no trace of the old trash. It has been removed without any further effort of my own, and the only place it can continue to remain is in the relics of shame and unworthiness that do not deserve any further place in my mind.

Perhaps the next time I’m tempted to complain about taking the trash out in my own home, this little metaphor will come to mind. I’ll swallow my complaints, and I’ll lug the Glad bag of garbage out gladly, knowing that trash has been removed to make room for a more valuable treasure.

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