My breathing quickens. I look around at the mess we’ve created on the ground. Boxes, plastic bags, storage bins, shoes, books, coats, hangers, toys, home décor, craft supplies, old appliances, CDs, blankets, sleeping bags, photo albums, backpacks… the pathway we created to the door was now non-existent. I had to balance on one foot to try to make my way back into the storage room.
This is going to be impossible, I thought. It will take hours to complete.
“Just keep doing your thing,” my husband breaks into my thoughts. “You know, keep on organizing and I’ll work on breaking down the trash.”
This weekend, my husband and I cleaned out our storage room. Well, it is more like a storage closet. It is in the garage of our apartment complex, and it is tiny, and yet we had managed to cram our entire lives into it. It’s the kind of closet that after you shut the door, you pray nothing jumps out and attacks you the next time you have to open it. I mean it was floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall, jam packed. And had been this way, literally, since the day we moved here, just over a year ago. Whatever we couldn’t fit into our one-bedroom apartment went in this storage space.
It was the perfect fall weekend for a project like this, foggy and rainy; and we had put it off long enough! I dreamed about what it would look like in the end. Massive amounts of space, clearly labeled containers, each item we owned would have its own space. No more trying to balance miscellaneous pieces on top of each other.
I sigh and lift another heavy box. The muscles in my arms tighten and quickly become sore. I set the box down and begin to rummage through its contents. An old teddy bear, articles I wrote for the newspaper in College, a necklace I wore at a wedding, three huge photo albums, a scrapbook of baby stuff my mom made me…
I create two piles: keep and garbage. I begin to sort. Jeff grabs the garbage and breaks it down or stuffs it into an overflowing garbage bag. I toss the keep items into a new storage bin.
Fortunately, I do not like to keep a lot of “stuff” – now that may sound contradictory to everything I just explained, but truly, I enjoy throwing things away that I know I will never look at or use again. For example, things that have been sitting in this storage room for an entire year that we never once missed or thought about.
Of course, there are always those few pieces of sentimental value that I just can’t part with, but oftentimes, my garbage pile is much bigger than my keep pile. It is easy to distinguish between the two.
So why is that so difficult to do with my Christ walk?
I have a lot of garbage in my life. There are things that I waste too much time on, there are sins that I cling to from my past that God has washed away and forgotten. There are thoughts that tear me down, battles I have yet to win, and places that I have failed… and then all this garbage – this “waste of worthless, nonsensical matter” – sort of just creeps into my keep pile. My heart. The same place I store my favorite memories, my joys, my strengths, my peace, and my faith. The pieces of my life worth keeping.
When I was younger, I made a lot of poor choices and decisions. Big ones. I know I have been forgiven of these things, and yet when I have a bad day or doubt myself, those tiny flecks of garbage stink up my keep pile. I don’t want them to, but they do. I’ve told myself that they no longer define who I am, but somehow, when I am feeling really low… they. do.
Does this ever happen to you?
The garbage in my keep pile takes over. Suddenly, I can’t see the pieces I want to keep; the ones I want to cling to… those pieces are fading, and all I see is the mess I’ve created. The pain I have caused people. The disappointments and hurts. The useless stuff that invades my time. Hatred. Anger. Failures. My past. It effects how I think. It cripples me so I cannot move forward. Confidence is replaced with fear. Future joy with past tears.
I am not good enough.
I am sinking.
But, once again, I am reminded. It is not about me. NOT about me.
“The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to His goodness and the question becomes not, “What I have done?” but “What can He do?” release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down. There is grace to help in every time of trouble. That grace is the secret to being able to forgive ourselves. Trust it.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
When I’m having difficulty sorting my garbage pile from my keep pile, I am reminded that it is already finished. That means my past does not define me, my failures and shortcomings do not paint the full picture of who I am. Christ has come. I am set free. The answer is grace. It is a completely foreign concept for the human brain to understand. Grace is a free gift – we did nothing to deserve it.
Nothing that I can do or say will change the fact that Christ died for me and loves me and has already settled the score.
Keep Pile: 1 Garbage Pile: 0
Of course, there are times where we have to battle the garbage. We do this by resting in God’s word and reminding ourselves of the truths and promises God tells us.
God heals the brokenhearted. + Psalm 147:3
We will be persecuted, but not destroyed. + 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
Nothing in creation will separate us from God’s love. + Romans 8:35-39
God will give us rest. + Matthew 11:28-29
His favor is for a lifetime. + Psalm 30:5
We are no longer slaves to sin, but God’s children. + Galatians 4:7
God has the ability to do all that He has promised. + Romans 4:20-21
Perhaps the most effective way to restore our keep piles, at least for me, is to have fellowship with believers and rid the garbage of our lives together. When we serve together, pray together, and study God’s word together, our keep piles are stronger. I think this is the way God intended it. He did not want us to battle the garbage alone.
I look at Jeff who is cutting down boxes in the garbage pile. How would I have ever completed this project without him? Together we were able to conquer the storage room in three hours. If I were alone, this would have easily taken double that amount of time. I am grateful to have him in this physical sense, as he is helping me clean out our storage room, but even more importantly, I am grateful to have him every day, to help me battle the garbage in my heart; to help me sort my piles, so the important stuff I want to keep is stable and strong; and so that the garbage is destroyed.
The final label is made. I press the sticky tape onto the smooth surface of the storage container. Jeff grabs the final box and takes one last trip to the garbage dump. It is finished, but not exactly how I imagined it would look. Since it is a small space, we really had to think about what was most important to keep. Even though we got rid of lots of garbage, the closet still feels tight. There isn’t massive amounts of space like I dreamed, but we made a huge improvement.
My keep pile has improved, too. I took out the garbage this morning in prayer. I am not the same person I was ten years ago, or even last week. But I am improving. I am taking steps. God is still working in me, helping me sort through the garbage, and He will continue to work in me every day. He doesn’t stop working and He doesn’t stop loving.
I can’t help but going back down to our storage room and peeking in every now and then. I can sigh with contentment that 1. This project is completed, 2. I feel just a bit more organized, and 3. Although it’s not exactly how I pictured it, I know that I worked hard at it, and it is in a much better place than it was yesterday.
“God replaced my fear of failure with His assurance when I discovered that His love won’t fail, even when I do.” – Renee Swope, A Confident Heart