“We need to listen to what our lives are saying and take notes on it, lest we forget our own truth or deny we ever heard it.” Parker J. Palmer
Recently I shared an encounter I had with trash strewn all over a creek bank and how God called me to clean up that trash. The whole time I was picking up other people’s trash, I was thinking about all the trash people had been throwing into my life lately. Some intentionally trying to harm me or our ministry but the majority simply causing harm through negligence and laziness. It felt freeing stuffing all that trash into a bag and I felt lighter seeing that shoreline slowly reflect its natural beauty.
As I was placing other people’s trash into that bag, I was praying for each of those people who had harmed me. “God, help them to see the error of their ways.” The more I thought about “those people” who had done all that harm, the more victimized I felt. The more I prayed for the strength to forgive them, the more self-righteous I became. I could be the bigger person, even if they never made amends for the harm they did. I could let go of my anger and as I shoved them into that trash bag, it felt good.
About half way through my clean-up effort, something shocking happened. I picked up a wrapper off a bush I had been sitting under. The wrapper was identical to the protein bar I had just eaten in that very spot. The same kind, the same brand, and it appeared brand new. I was perplexed. I know I had put my trash back in my bag. How did my wrapper get in the bush?
I went to my bag and sure enough, there was the original wrapper from my snack. In that moment, that wrapper whispered, “All this trash in your life is not just because “others” have harmed you. You have placed a lot of this trash here and you are as much a perpetrator of harm as all those “other” people.” That was a sobering truth.
All that trash had been washed ashore because of heavy rains that flooded the creek bed. Some of that trash had likely been laying in that creek for a very long time, forgotten and undisturbed.
Nine months ago, my family decided to go all in. We moved from our safe, comfortable suburban home in the county into the inner city of Richmond. We renovated a former rooming house, updated our suburban home and relocated our five member family including two teenagers who were less than thrilled. At the same time, we moved our Embrace corporate offices into the same neighborhood and began building an entirely new team using a completely different staffing structure in a brand new neighborhood. It was as though the flood waters of change have been rushing over me for nearly a year. All that activity, all the frustrations of renovating houses, moving a family and starting a new ministry caused a flood of stress and anxiety. I have felt so overwhelmed by it all, I thought I might drown in the raging waters.
Like that creek, there was a lot of trash that had accumulated in my spirit– past unresolved hurt, fear and anger. As the waters continued to rage, my ability to hold all that trash in place eroded away and I found myself raw with emotion. As I watched each attempt to stabilize the ground under my feet fail, my confidence began to waiver and I just wanted to crawl in a hole and wait for the storm to end.
All of this distress was caused by my decision to take a bold step toward what I felt was a clear call. It has been a hard season and we are still in the midst of the raging waters. Much of my writing over the past few weeks reflects my attempts to make sense of the challenges we have been encountering.
That encounter with the talking trash reminded me that sometimes we put the trash in our own lives. We refuse to deal with hard issues and we bury the hurt and disappointment deep in our hearts. Unfortunately, we are powerless against the flood waters that bring them to the surface once again.
As I was going down for the third time, I reached out to a friend who is a gifted spiritual director and asked her to take my hand and keep me from being swept away in the storm. She suggested that I start journaling again which has led to much of my recent writings.
For me journaling allows me to pick up the trash, examine it and determine what needs to go in the trash bag and what pieces God might be using to teach me something.
We all face seasons where life stirs things up. I am thankful to have a few friends who rather than judge me for my trash filled banks, choose instead to remind me that I have the tools I need to restore my life to its God ordained beauty.
I pray you are floating down a lazy river of life but if you are like me and I the midst of a storm, grab your pen and start listening to that trash swirling all around you. You might be shocked at what it can teach you.
“In the tradition of pilgrimage, hardships are seen not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself. Treacherous terrain, bad weather, taking a fall, getting lost – challenges of that sort, largely beyond our control, can strip the ego of the illusion that it is in charge and make space for true self to emerge. If that happens, the pilgrim has a better chance to find the sacred center he or she seeks.” Parker J. Palmer