Years ago I read an intriguing news item in USA Today: “Housing officials in Spokane, Wash., Tuesday gave cleanup deadlines to [name removed], whose house is so filthy it has sickened garbage workers. The city plans to demolish the home if she misses the deadlines. Officials say there are animal feces on floors and garbage stacked to the ceilings. Two trash collectors became ill March 17, so firefighters with respirators finished the job.” (USA Today, March 30, 1995)
That’s a filthy house! Animal feces and garbage stacked to the ceiling! Picture the mess. Imagine the smell.
While we may not have trash building up in our homes, do we accumulate spiritual trash? Do we collect embarrassing moments, humiliating failures, persistent weaknesses, regrettable mistakes? Do we save them, stack them, and let them fill our lives?
I’m afraid that we do. Do we become depressed or overwhelmed by our shortcomings and failures? Do we feel inadequate? Do we decide that we are spiritual failures? Does condemning ourselves and dwelling on all our emotional trash become a habit so that the pile grows and grows?
As our souls fill with unsightly and smelly trash, do we shut ourselves off from other people and from spiritual opportunities. Do we start to avoid Jesus?
I have done that. I’m really good at remembering my stupidity. I regularly cringe to recall the people I’ve hurt and the mistakes I’ve made. Often I feel quite embarrassed and discouraged.
Lately I have felt like Jesus has been asking me to push the trash from my life by doing two things: 1. Take out the trash both weekly and daily and 2. Let fresh air and light into my life.
There are two ways I take out the trash. Every week I come to the sacrament table asking that He clean up my soul. Have you noticed that the sacrament prayers go from the Father to the Son to us, back to the Son and the Father, back to us, and sealing the covenant by the Spirit? As I have studied this amazing prayer, I have realized that God is binding us to Him and to His Son by sacred covenant.
There is another part to this covenant process. Even as we make sacramental covenants, Jesus shows up at the doors of the chapel with a 14-cubic yard dump truck. He is prepared to haul off any trash we give Him. So, even though I do not and cannot pay Him for His Disaster Cleanup Services, I have nowhere else to turn. Only He can renew my soul. So I surrender my sins and beg Him for help to do better and to be better. He gladly hauls them off. I stand all amazed!
Along with the weekly practice of the sacrament, there is a daily thing I do to take out the trash. Every day at the end of the day, I review my listing of the activities of my day. I try to notice those times when I was impatient or unkind. I try to remember when I was in too big a hurry to be helpful. And I ask God for forgiveness. Returning to the house metaphor, every day I look around my living space and gather up trash and haul it to the trashcan. Maybe a little resentment, a spot of judging, some coveting, and a bag of meanness or thoughtlessness.
I actually draw a simple picture of a house on scratch paper and I list those things I would like Him to haul off from my day. Much to my amazement, I find that Jesus is always waiting there to haul off any trash I will give Him. He always says: “I’ll take away any trash you’ll give me!”
So every day and every week I take a load of my fallenness to Him and ask Him to haul it off.
But it is not enough to haul off the trash. I want more than a trash-free life. I want my life filled with light, holiness, and gratitude for all the bright and beautiful things in my life. So, every evening, I review the day looking for blessings He has sent. I thank Him for beloved Nancy, for good people, good experiences, and new insights. I thank Him for the gospel that makes everything in life meaningful.
This listing of blessings is like throwing open the windows and letting in the sunshine, fresh breezes of the Holy Ghost, and scenes of goodness. On my sketch of a house, I add a sun/Son. And I list blessings of the day.
As I practice looking for blessings, I notice more and more of them. I am amazed by all that He is doing for us.
The Lord gave great counsel in D&C 78:19: “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.”
This week that phrase, “receiveth all things with thankfulness,” has taken on new meaning. I have known for a long time that I need to be grateful for both the blessings and the challenges God sends. This week I realized that I cannot receive all things with thankfulness unless I am very attentive—unless I am actively looking for blessings. That is the way to receive all things with thankfulness.
So every evening I review the day and I list blessings from heaven. I write them down. I thank God for them.
Just as surely as Jesus in His mortal ministry took people who were lost, diseased, and filthy and cleaned them up, He yearns to do the same for us. Most of us will never know leprosy—but we are afflicted with pride, selfishness, narrow-mindedness, and impatience. My testimony is that He is ready to haul off the trash and fill our lives with His light and life. Our spiritual progress depends on working with Him to remove trash and disinfect our houses with His holiness.
Invitation: What do you feel called to do to get the trash hauled from your life?
Recommendation: Years ago, I wrote a book about bringing joy to our personal and family lives: Finding Joy in Family Life. You might find it useful.