This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Month: March 2018

Bags of Filth

 

It all began with a dare. A 40-day Lenten dare to put love into action. It was my Ash Wednesday – Valentine’s Day challenge to love deeper, truer, better. Could I practice a deeper love for forty days? For one week? For one day? And if I did, what would I learn – about me, about sacrifice, about love?

 

There is always a cost to doing good, to putting love into action. A cost to our financial resources, to our time, to our own desires, and even to our own egos. The first days were simple enough, a kind gesture to say I love you. A gift of flowers to bring beauty to a weary soul. A gift of words, in the form of a note or a card or a book, to encourage a fellow traveler.

 

I noticed the trash along the road by my house as if for the first time. Were there always so many discarded bottles and cans, so much paper and plastic rubbish, so many rejected items tainting the splendor of this lonely road that meanders through the horse country of southeastern Pennsylvania? Had it been here all along and I hadn’t even taken notice of it?

 

An idea forms. Am I willing to put love into action the hard way?

 

The large white plastic bag grows noticeably heavier with each step I take. Many of the plastic and glass bottles are not empty when I collect them from their roadside graves. A leash guiding my dog in one hand, the trash bag in the other, it is all I can do to pick up the trash and place it in the bag. So, empty or not, in they go.

 

My four-legged friend is not amused by the stop-start nature of our afternoon walk.

 

I catch sight of the top of a bottle, its body buried beneath a bed a leaves. As I bend down to claim the next captive to my assortment of rubbish, I reach into the covering of leaves and debris. The heft of the bottle surprises me. It is larger than any of the other bottles in my collection, and its weightiness reveals to me that it is nearly full.

 

I think twice about making such a weighty addition to my already burgeoning bag. Retracting my hand, I turn away.

 

Do I really want to add this heavy bottle to my bundle that has already grown far heavier than I had anticipated it becoming?

 

Turning back toward the half-hidden receptacle, I bend once again, willing my fingers to grasp it, even though I know that its weight will be significantly more than that of ten empty bottles. It is cold. I cannot stop to open bottle after bottle and pour their contents out on the ground. Nor does that quite seem the point – I’m trying to clean up the earth not add liquid pollution to it.

 

My eye registers the sight of the light tawny colored liquid and the bubbles inside, and instinctively I know this is no bottle of soda.

 

This is a bottle of urine.

 

I let the bottle drop to the ground. I’m not going to carry someone’s urine.

 

And just like that, I stand high and mighty above the bottle of human waste and declare that I am too good for this. And just like that, I have forgotten what Lent points to, what awaits at the other end of the Lenten journey – the sacrificial death offering of the holy God-man for all of broken humanity.

 

For me.

 

Who am I to say that I am above carrying human trash when my Savior willingly carried my human trash, all of my filth and sin, up Calvary’s mount? I reach for the bottle again, this time placing it gingerly in my bag of discarded things.

 

 

My load is growing steadily heavier now. I’m rethinking how aggressive my collecting was on the first half of my excavation. From time to time I feel sprinkles from my bag dance across my ankles, and I wonder which bottle is leaking.

 

When we carry trash, we’re bound to get a little messy.

 

And yet, how often do we insist on continuing to carry our own trash around with us. The trash of our guilt and shame. The debris from those we have wounded and the wounds others have inflicted on us. The trash that is ripe with the stench of festering anger and bitterness and unforgiveness. The discarded remnants of a self-esteem that is so performance-driven that it can never be satisfied.

 

On top of all this refuse we add the messes of our fears and insufficiency and anxiety.

 

And our knees fairly buckle under the weight of our broken humanness.

 

Cars pass. I’m suddenly uncomfortable knowing that others can see all the trash that I carry.

 

This bag of refuse that we carry is, after all, just that – refuse. It represents all that has been rejected, cast aside, deemed worthless and unsuitable. Is there a way for us to refuse to carry the refuse? I mean, isn’t that what Lent and Good Friday and Easter are all about? Isn’t that why Jesus said he came – to carry our burdens, to pay our price for sin?

 

He beckons, cast your burden on me and I will give you rest, and yet we insist on carrying our bag of refuse with us. He declares that it is for freedom that he has set us free, and yet we insist on clutching onto those very burdens from which he desires to free us. He longs to give us freedom from anger and bitterness and hurt feelings. Freedom from fear and pain and worry and depression. Freedom from anxiety and loneliness and doubt that we’ll ever be enough. He came and he lived and he died and rose again to give us abundant life, yes that’s right, life abundant and free.

 

And yet some days we prefer to journey alone, grasping hold of our bag of rotten things as it leaks about our ankles.

 

My load grows even heavier now. My arm aches from the awkward bulky weight. My fingers cramp from grasping the plastic so tightly. My load is nearly more than my arms can bear, but it pales in comparison to the weight of all my trash the Savior bore on his shoulders to set me free. The one who lost his life so I could find mine gently beckons me to lay it all down, and I am reminded that his unfailing love and glorious grace are more than sufficient to carry all of my burdens and all of my sin.

 

Will you let him carry your burden today?

When Light Breaks Through the Darkness

 

They called it a bomb cyclone; I call it forty-four hours without power. Forty-four winter hours with no heat. No light. And not even cell service.

 

We were all bracing for the winter nor’easter to rear its ugly head, interrupting our weekend plans with sheets of driving rain. We wondered if we would make it to our daughter’s lacrosse game in northern New York given the storm’s predicted snowfall there.

 

The storm ended up catching us all by surprise. Where my daughter was expecting 15 inches of snow, she got 3; we expected rain and instead got 50 mph winds and a 6-inch blanket of snow heavy enough to knock out power in 300,000 homes. The storm had caught us all completely by surprise.

 

Life’s storms are like that, aren’t they? Life is running along smoothly when an unexpected and devastating storm rips through our world, upending our tranquility.

 

At church yesterday, one of our pastors said, “Lent is a time to sit in the darkness and appreciate the light.” He was speaking, of course, about the darkness of our sin and the lightness of our savior, but yesterday, forty hours into my cold, dark experience, his words held greater significance for me.

 

In the dark, we discover what inconveniences us. And I have realized that it doesn’t take much! As evening fell, the darkness began to envelop us. We sat huddled together, pooling the light from flickering candles and beams from our small headlamps. We washed our hands in cold tap water to conserve what remained in the hot water tank for the next day’s brief showers. The first night wasn’t too bad; the house was still over sixty degrees and honestly it still felt a bit like a pioneering adventure. But once day one stretched into day two and the house hit fifty-five degrees, all sense of adventure had worn off! Without cell service, we were truly in the dark, literally and figuratively.

 

As I walked through these hours of darkness, I really did appreciate the moments of light with a more grateful heart. A walk in the warm sunshine the day after the storm. A lunch out in a warm place. An invitation from a friend to come to dinner and bring our dog! A place for a hot shower and a hair dryer on day three. These moments where light broke through the darkness were the sustaining moments that enabled us to persevere as the season of darkness lingered.

 

Glimpses of light are essential when we are walking in the dark.

 

 

I have experienced another type of darkness, an extended season when there were no respites of light breaking through. My son had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I was angry. Angry at God for allowing my son to get this devastating disease that took my brother’s life and has afflicted my sister since she was sixteen. More than being angry that this wasn’t my plan for my family, I questioned why a loving God would allow such an awful thing to happen to my son.

 

And so I pushed God out of my life. Stopped up my ears and squeezed shut my eyes and declared that I didn’t want to hear from him or see him again.

 

And the dark became very dark, indeed.

 

It settled in and lingered. What I first noticed was the silence. Like the stillness of my powerless house with no humming appliances or electronics, my mind went completely silent. Gone were the conversational prayers that would flow in and out of me throughout the day. But I was okay with that; I was angry at God. I didn’t mind the silence, at least not at first. But like the silence of the winter nor’easter, the silence eventually became deafening.

 

The darkness continued to settle in, heavy like a suffocating blanket from which I couldn’t free myself.

 

In time, my anger began to abate, and I sought once again this God I have known my entire life. I expected the light to break through in glorious fashion and end my exile. What I discovered instead was the wisdom of a God who knew there were still more lessons for me to learn in the dark.

 

And so the silence lingered.

 

And the darkness grew darker.

 

It’s in the dark that we really appreciate the light.

 

In the dark, we see what we cannot see in the light. Once our eyes adjust to the dark, we begin to really see.

 

And truthfully, I didn’t like what I saw. In the dark, questions loomed large: is God still good even when my world seems very bad? Or is he only good when things work out according to my plan, and devastation doesn’t hit too close to my home? With the faintest flicker of light illumining me, I saw the warped theology I had fashioned: God isn’t good all the time; God is only good most of the time.

 

I had tangled up the sorrow I was experiencing over my son’s life and health with the goodness of God. Before I could step back into the Light, I had to settle this matter of the goodness of God.

 

Slowly, gently, I began to see that God is always good, even when life is bad and terribly unfair. I needed to be swallowed up in the darkness and in the silence to truly grasp the beauty of the Light. This Light never goes out, even in the darkest of nights and the most ferocious of storms. We just need to keep looking into the Light.

 

A Light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ Saint John

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