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.
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?