Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tension... Peace... Joy — Another Lesson from My Garbage

For the second time in as many weeks, my garbage has caused me reflection that led to gratitude. (See my blog post 2011AUG17 for the first one.) Why this is, I do not know. I won't start to worry about my sanity just yet.

Late last night, after finishing the bedtime routine with my oldest child, I was dragging my tired self to bed when I realized I hadn't taken out the garbage or the recyclables. <heavy sigh> I trudged toward the front of the house to do my job simply because it was the job I had agreed to do. I looked out the front door. Lo and behold, there were the recycle bins and the trash can out at the curb ready for the next day's pickup!

It turns out my wife had put them out in the afternoon while she was watching our 3-year-old son zooming up and down the sidewalk on his scooter. It was a little thing, I suppose. She was out there anyway. But to me it was a major gift. 

This caused me to remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine regarding his kitchen garbage and his spouse. He and his wife learned a lesson about their relationship after fighting for years about taking out the garbage. Here's the story:

In their house, taking out the garbage was not a job given to any particular person. Their idea was that everyone should simply act as a responsible member of the household. If the kitchen trash can was full, whoever put the last piece of garbage in ought to empty the garbage (just like the person who uses the last toilet paper on the roll ought to replace it with a fresh roll).

Perhaps you have already spotted the problem with this arrangement. Unlike the toilet paper roll which has a definite ending point, the idea of when the garbage can is full is a) open to interpretation and b) somewhat flexible based on how hard you are willing to push down on the garbage. The end result was that everyone in the house would cram their last piece of garbage into the can without emptying it. You can imagine the scene, I'm sure.

This led to accusations that, while sometimes reasonable, were hard to prove. When is a trash can really full? The end result was that the garbage was an ongoing source of conflict with no possible resolution within their current way of doing things..

They found their answer in choosing a new strategy instead of arguing more forcefully. The answer was simple. In the end, it didn't even change who took out the garbage all that much. But it brought peace to the household. Occasionally, it even brought joy.

The solution was this: they decided together that taking out the garbage would be the husband's responsibility. Here is how this solution brought peace — and even joy — to their household.

First, the peace came from clearly marked lines of responsibility. There was no weaseling around. It was his job, and if it wasn't done, there was no arguing about who should have done it. Voila! Most of the reason for the tension over the kitchen garbage vanished in a puff of new paradigm. The husband didn't even mind, because at least things were clear and simple. The temptation to cram garbage was gone because it didn't serve any purpose. It was also easier for him to do the job when he was tired because he knew it was his job and no one else's. It's amazing what a clearly defined job can do to a person's day.

But wait, there's more!

Joy unexpectedly was discovered as part of this clarified delineation of responsibilities. Sometimes the wife took out the garbage. In the long run, it was probably nearly as often as she used to. But now, because of the new way of looking at things, every time she took out the garbage it was a gift! The husband became the frequent recipient of a gift given in love, and the wife became the frequent giver of gifts to the husband with whom she was sharing her life.

Imagine! In deciding whose responsibility the garbage would be instead of simply arguing about it each time it started to overflow, this couple discovered three important truths about deciding who would be responsible for an unpleasant task. First, knowing it was his job allowed the husband to rustle up the strength to take out the garbage even when he was tired. Second, the husband could feel good instead of put upon when he took out the garbage because it was his responsibility. And the surprising third is that the new structure around kitchen garbage duty provided a whole new way for gifts to be given and received within their relationship.

I thought about my friends as I stared through tired eyes at the garbage can and recycle bins out at the curb under the streetlights. In the morning I made sure to thank my wife and tell her how much her little gift of taking out the garbage had meant to me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Garbage and Gratitude

Last Tuesday night my wife asked me to take out the recyclables. This was actually quite gracious because taking out the recyclables already is my job. She could have just reminded me to do it instead of asking me to do it.

The thing is, taking out the recyclables is one of my least favorite jobs. The reason? They stink. Though we rinse things before they get put in the bin, we are not of the type to run the recyclables through the dishwasher before we put them out to be melted down or whatever they do to them. So it is an unpleasant job.

Why am I writing about an unpleasant job, you ask. Because I found joy in it, and I thought that was worth sharing. My sense of gratitude grew as I took out the recyclables, and gratitude is good for all of us.

In order to take the recyclables out, I had to take them out of somewhere. In my case, I have a house that is quite comfortable, reasonably furnished, has heating and air conditioning, includes the fabulous luxury of indoor plumbing, and more. So though I don't enjoy taking the recyclables out, I am mighty glad to have some place to take them out from.

Much of what smells disgusting after sitting in the recyclables bin for several days smelled and tasted delicious a few days ago. In taking out the used food containers, I was reminded that I have consumed the food that came in the containers. I have food, which is a wonderful blessing. Some of the things that stank, did so because we don't refrigerate our recyclables. The perishable stuff spoils — which reminded me of how wonderful it is to have a refrigerator to keep fresh food fresh longer. What a blessing!

Then I thought of my family, which had consumed the food that came in the now-stinking recyclable containers. I have a wife and children that also have food — food that we share as we sit around the table and generally quite enjoy each other.

As I reached the curb, I also thought about the luxury of having someone else drive by in a truck to pick up my garbage. How wonderful is that?

I probably won't ever really look forward to taking out the recyclables, but I have found that thinking about what brought that stinking bin full of used containers into existence has given me a great opportunity to let gratitude overtake me in the middle of an unpleasant task. Thankfulness feels good.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm also thankful that I have to take out the recyclables only once per week.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Learning to Pray from a Foreign Woman

Last Sunday's Bible text and message (August 14, 2011) covered a very perplexing incident wherein Jesus first ignores someone who wants help and then tries to brush her off. The woman succeeds in persuading Jesus to do what she asks (free her daughter from a demon) and, in doing so, joins a long list of major Bible characters who were willing to push — even argue with — God. Some find it difficult to come to grips with Jesus' trying to ignore and brush off someone who needs help. But the woman teaches us a great lesson about prayer. Prayer is not a flaccid, wet-fish, passive encounter with God. You are a person with a will and a mind — as God created you to be! Kids don't just passively accept whatever their parents say (as much as parents might wish that sometimes!). As children grow, parents expect children to engage them and sometimes push back. Most parents would worry if their child quietly and passively followed every instruction without feedback.

Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a model. He engages the Father, asking for anything other than what's about to be done to him. Then he concludes his prayer with, "Not my will but yours be done." We must be careful, however, because "Thy will be done" can come from either end of the faith spectrum. "Thy will be done" can be a statement of courageous and confident trust in our loving God. Or "Thy will be done" can be the prayer equivalent of the teenagers, "Whatever. God's going to do what God's going to do and I don't really see the point of praying."

The central lesson from Jesus' encounter is one we learn over and over in the scriptures. God is not an immovable wall of will any more than an earthly parent is. God is a compassionate Father who hears our prayers, is moved by our desires, and can even be won over.

Do you want peace in your heart? Learn to pray with vigor. Engage God in prayer over the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 proclaims, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." The twist on this verse, however, is that probably more often than not, it is the desires of our hearts that change rather than God's simply giving us what we want. Either way, in the end, God promises peace that passes all understanding.

An essential part of this process that brings peace to your spirit is engaging God with your true self. Of course you want to praise God for who He is when you pray. Of course you want to pray in the spirit of "Thy will be done." But that doesn't mean you turn into an invertebrate — a spiritual slug without desire or will. This foreign woman teaches us to pray: engage God!