On one of my customary prayer walks through our neighborhood, I noticed that along the street in front of most of the houses, there was a large plastic can with wheels. Funny how easy it is to see things without really ‘seeing’ them. Truth is, they’re out there every week, all neatly situated so that the hydraulic arm on the garbage truck can pick them up and dump them. I pass them every Friday without conscious notice, but for some reason that day was different. I was captivated by the notion of our relationship with garbage. Garbage in America is big business, and taking out the trash is a part of life here. We generate somewhere between two and three hundred thousand tons of household garbage every year, and that’s just the garbage we know about and document, never mind how much doesn’t get weighed and counted. Taking out the trash is one of those commonplace burdens of daily living that most of us generally don’t think about unless it becomes a problem. Dealing with trash and garbage is just another unappealing, unfulfilling chore that we would happily pass off to someone else if we could. But not everyone sees it the same way. Some people operate with different definitions as to what is and is not garbage, and with different approaches to dealing with it.
My wife and I encountered an example of those differences as we sat in with a Bible study group a couple of years ago. As the session unfolded, some of the folks began to share testimonies about difficult times they had been through, and personal challenges or failures they had experienced. Their stories focused on how God had intervened and delivered them from the consequences of poor choices, bad relationships, or situations where they felt bound and hopeless. Most of the stories had a familiar enough ring to allow the rest of us to relate to them in some way, but then, a soft voice broke one of the ‘in between’ pauses with this. “My house was on TV.” It was definitely not the kind of introductory statement that one generally hears in a setting like that. “OK…” I thought, “Maybe it was a real estate commercial, or one of those house flipping programs. Or maybe she was desperate, and God brought a buyer for her house in some unusual way.” Whatever our individual thoughts, most of us were responding with our rendition of the proverbial ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look.
Then she said, “I’m a hoarder—or at least I was a hoarder.” She then proceeded to reveal that her house was so bad at one point that some people came to film it for one of those TV shows about hoarding. She told how hard it became to try to maintain a façade of normality while living in a chaotic pile of junk. Her house became a labyrinth of pathways through and around stacks of papers, piles of books, magazines, trash, old clothes, useless appliances, and boxes on top of boxes full of unknown and unused junk. No one was allowed inside her house, no friends were invited over, no shared dinners, no romantic movie nights, no holiday gatherings, just her and her junk. Her normal image at work and at church belied the fact that she had lost the ability to effectively take out the trash.
Dealing with the trash is at least a two-stage process: 1) recognizing it for what it is, and 2) removing it. There were no problems with her vision. She could see the trash in her house clearly, but the piles of useless debris revealed what she could not do. She could not recognize trash for what it was, and because of that, what filled and characterized her house soon defined her life. She was living out another tragic illustration of the fact that bondage can result as easily from what we fail to do as what we do.
She didn’t hang onto junk because she loved it. She hung onto it because she was afraid to face life without it. Her security and her confidence was built on the illusion that an abundance of things meant that she would not be left empty and in want. Her fear of being deprived and left destitute gripped her as tightly as her own grasp of the trash in her house. Because the trash consumed all the available space remaining in places usually allotted as temporary storage, and because she could not bring herself to throw it out, it began to take over space normally designated for other things. Soon there was precious little space left even for her.
In this land of abundance, there is also abundant fear. Forces continually drive us toward acquisition and accumulation, as though if we can just gather enough ‘stuff’, we will be prepared for anything. It’s as though the great American creed is that as long as our houses and lives are sufficiently crammed full of things, we will never be left empty and destitute. That’s what she thought. That’s the fear that drove her, and from which she fled in the world, and with which she filled her entire living space. Her compulsion to avoid the circumstance she dreaded left her consumed with the very thing she feared. She ended up as pathetically empty as her house was pathologically full—overwhelmed with things, but unable to have joy or fulfillment in or with any of them. She held all those worthless things close and tight, and pushed all the people away.
Freedom from her fears and the redemption of her life didn’t come because she cleaned the junk out of her house. Cleaning out her house was the result, not the cause. She found room in her heart for a treasure she could never find in her house. An intimate relationship with someone who loved her in spite of her flaws. When she opened her heart to Jesus Christ, the only One who could free her from her fears, suddenly the trash began to look like trash. Amazing what a difference it makes when that happens.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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