One of the services of local municipal government in America is trash disposal. What happens when you neglect to put out on the curb your property's trash container for the weekly pick-up? It becomes all the more smelly during the next week! Dealing with the trash may not be a favorite chore, but it must be done; distributing containers in appropriate spots throughout the house, trash can liners inserted, emptied at least once a week into the curb-side pick-up containers (also lined so hopefully it doesn't need scrubbed every week because of the smell), maybe more or less steps (depending on your standards of cleanliness), and finally, taking the household container to the curb.
As much as we may dislike the trash removal chores, the alternatives are certainly worse. Neglecting to remove spoiled food from the refrigerator or soiled diapers from the baby’s room, will create smelly consequences. And the germs .... Unclean environments create unhealthy conditions which make unhealthy, sick people. Proper handling of trash is an essential part of maintaining a healthy household and living a healthy life. It is a faithful physical reminder of an emotional and spiritual process in our lives.
Our physical being can be thought of as a "house" we live in while we exist on earth. Our mental and emotional well-being determines in great measure the condition of our "house" (individual person) and our "neighborhood" (family, friends, etc.). When talking about mental and emotional health, “taking out the trash” may have a slightly different meaning for different people. Prolonged mental or emotional pain usually means there is some sort of "trash" to be removed. The trash in this case is likened to some sort of inner woundedness. We live in a broken world with broken people acting out their brokenness towards their environment (including other people), thus creating more wounding and brokenness. This cycle affects every person without exception. Since the beginning of sin's entry into the world, mistreatment, injustice, and even abuse are to be expected. The hurt we feel as a result does not mean we are weak, just human. Trying to be "tough," by ignoring or minimizing the effects of mental and emotional pain can create far more significant long term damage than paying attention to it right away. Pain is not the problem. Pain is only a messenger. Heeding pain's message by acknowledging and working it through will help prevent trash buildup in your inner person. Does this sound like a smelly or frightening chore? Do not despair. We have hope in a "trash hauler" even for this kind of trash.
The difficult part of this scenario is that until the pain becomes unbearable, mankind is wired to resist inner person trash removal "chores." Human nature prefers familiarity even when the familiar becomes unhealthy. Brokenness is accepted and even sometimes celebrated before the ugliness of its unhealthy qualities are discovered. This phenomenon, at least in part, explains why a person abused as a child will often select abusive people to hang out with as an adult.
One of the most prominent examples of someone not taking out the trash in his heart, is the ancient King David. What began as unintended (and unchecked) thoughts and feelings ended up with intentional deception, adultery and murder. David wasn't tuned into the trash until a prophet named Nathan shared a story with him that revealed the truth. One "misjudgment" upon another was, in reality, one sin upon another (ie. idleness, complacency, visual stimulation, conversation, flirting, lust (confused as love), sweet-talking a woman not his wife (victimizing), affair (adultery), hiding affair, inappropriate suggestions (trickery & manipulation), half truths (lying and cover-up), commanding army (misuse of power, killing, & murder). See the book of 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 in the Bible to read the details. David and the entire nation of Israel had to suffer grave consequences because of his actions. What began as "bad judgment" ended in a hard crash. In my next blog post I plan to talk more about how trash held in a person's heart can lead to this kind of crash.
For now, let me say that holding anger, bitterness, resentment, envy, jealousy, shame, self-bitterness, worry and other negative feelings create destructive forms of trash that defile our personhood (Hebrews 3:12; 12:15). Jesus taught that our sinful thoughts and attitudes are as serious as our actions (Matthew 5:21-22). Sometimes we even try to justify actions as "gray areas," to make excuse for what we know is wrong.
If you experience lingering unrest in your soul, conflict in a relationship, mood swings, worry, doubts about who you are or your purpose for being, or other negative feelings that leave you confused or doubtful about the future, let me encourage you to make a commitment to finding the source and getting rid of the trash. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help with this task.
- Is there a person(s) in your life you try to avoid having contact with?
- Is there someone you are focused on to meet a need in your life, but they do not seem to share the same commitment or provide assistance?
- Do you have a habit you are afraid to admit might be an addiction?
- Are you not eating or losing sleep because of an obsession to success on a work project?
- Are you dabbling in something that you are afraid will ruin your reputation if the wrong person finds out about it?
- Is there a particular place, specific event, or regular activity, that triggers negative feelings (especially with unknown reason)?
- Do you occasionally stretch the truth (tell a lie) for "convenience" sake?
- Are different people trying to tell you the same thing about a part of your character that you really don't want to hear?
- Do other people think you are less open minded as you believe you are?
- Are you addicted to porn or some substance but don't know what to do about it?
- Do you think about killing yourself or someone else in order to solve a problem?
If you are a confessing Christian (trusting Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord), you are not automatically exempt from the task of taking out the trash. In all reverence and respect for what Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection, let us recognize that Jesus came to be our trash hauler. He saves us from our sins, and heals the pain of the consequences of the sins (Isaiah 53:4). Our trash is hauled away through repentance. We put our trash in a container and turn it over to him. Confession and repentance is obviously recognized as a means to receive forgiveness of a grievous sin like murder, but we also need to repent even if we have simply harbored wrong attitudes and thoughts and committed less heinous actions.
Jesus is the way into Father's presence where there is no trash to be encountered. You are now on a journey to receive more and more of God's presence with Father as the destination. Your conversion experience did not remove all the trash at one time. It began the process of taking out the trash that keeps you from having a more intimate fellowship with Father God (even now before your final destination is reached).
If you need help from a counselor, it does not make you less of a Christian. If you are a leader, you are at even greater risk. Do not allow pride to minimize the dangers. A crash similar to King David's would not only hurt your own life, but many others as well.
God wants the trash gone even more than you do. God wants to know you as he made you in his original design before trash (sin) entered the world. Oh to know God, and be known by Him. That should be our greatest motivator of all for taking out the trash!