As I headed out of the kitchen, trash bag in hand, my load suddenly felt lighter and a wet, sticky sensation swept across my feet. Jabs of pain radiated down my thigh.
Earlier that day I had hastily tossed a broken wire hanger into the trash can. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but apparently the metal stick landed in just the right spot to tear open the bag and simultaneously gash my leg.
I stood surveying the stinky mess that blanketed the floor I had scrubbed two hours prior. What was once pristine was covered in filth.
In that moment I did a lot of futile wishing.
I wished that I had never thrown that hanger away.
I wished that my leg wasn’t throbbing.
I even wished that my name was Carol Brady and that my trusty housekeeper named Alice would clean up the mess for me.
But none of my wishing altered my reality. There was a big ugly mess on my kitchen floor and I was responsible for cleaning it up.
As I examine my life, I can recall many messes made in the corridors of my heart, spirit, and mind. Like the gunky monstrosity caused by the broken trash bag, some of my messes were created by my negligence, sins, and mistakes.
The mirror of my past reflects broken relationships damaged by insecurities, debt resulting from overspending, and angry tirades as I pursued perfection. Instead of cleaning up the messes as I made them, I spent years hiding my self-wreckage in a dark closet of blame and excuses.
There also have been times when I stood in a pile of garbage not of my own making. Verbal attacks, betrayal, and deception pummeled me just like the bag of trash splattered on my kitchen floor.
For years I felt that the messes I didn’t create on my own were not my responsibility. Moreover, I put those into a box labeled “victim,” hid them, and hoped that somehow they would disappear.
Several years ago I discovered a life-changing fact regarding the messes of life: the trash’s origin makes little difference at clean up time.
Refusing to clean a mess that someone else made or started to make doesn’t hide the smell. Stamping my feet and wailing, “It’s not fair,” may garner sympathy but it won’t rid the stain.
There are lots of things I can do with a mess. I can analyze it, call an expert to examine it, investigate its inception, and give it a fancy name like “dysfunctional matter.” I can even cleverly arrange a few pieces into abstract art.
But unless I take action to remove the trash collected during the business of living life, I’ll never be free from it’s stench. The junk will multiply and the dirt will either overwhelm me or numb me. Despair, desensitize or climb out are the only three choices when living in an emotional garbage heap.
I’m glad I don’t have to go about my cleaning by myself; because when I do take that approach I just end up making a bigger mess. In Joshua 1:5 God promises “I will never leave you or forsake you.” When I call out to my savior for help, he comes and often he sends others as well, because human beings are not designed to go it alone. We need one another for respite … for solidarity … for accountability … for growth … for sanity.
Cleaning up with God isn’t always easy. He is thorough and the labor is exhausting. Sometimes he uncovers dirt behind the dirt that I never knew existed. He asks me to handle hard chores: taking responsibility, repenting, forgiving. He won’t let me hide the clutter in a drawer or sweep dust under a rug. He stays at it until the job is done right.
My Jesus remains beside me each step of the way, brushing back my hair, holding the trash bag, and whispering
Draw closer sweet one, you can do this. I know it’s hard. I know it’s painful, but with me it’s possible. You will see beauty underneath this garbage. I promise.
Regardless the heap’s depth, stickiness, or odor, it is cleanable. There is no cleaning agent more powerful than the blood of Jesus. And there is no scent more fragrant than the distilling love of Christ.
A similar version of my story above was published at (in)courage in 2009.