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  • Marty Lythgoe

Lessons from the Trash Barrel

Updated: Sep 11, 2018

In the city in which I live we are blessed to have a strong ecology focus in our local government. We have separate large barrels for trash, for yard waste, and for recyclable materials. The trash barrel is picked up every week while the yard waste and recyclable barrels are picked up on alternate weeks.


Last week was the week for the recyclables. When I came home from work and began to put the barrels away, I noticed that the recyclable barrel had not been completely emptied. The cans and bottles were gone, as were the newspapers and magazines, but there was still a large amount of cardboard remaining in the barrel. And this was the second round of recyclable pickups in which my barrel had not been emptied, one month’s worth.


As required, I had broken down the cardboard boxes and cut up and/or neatly folded it to fit in the barrel and make for easy dumping. Feeling some sense of frustration, I rather harshly passed judgment on the driver and the whole company for the failure to satisfactorily perform their duties. I pictured the automated truck lifting the barrel and simply needing to bang it a time or two on the truck to successfully empty the contents but this had obviously not been done. I phoned the city Environmental Resources Department and lodged a complaint, scheduling a special pickup for the following day. This was successfully accomplished, my barrel emptied.


This morning in my time of prayer and meditation I reflected on this situation. I remembered that in the neighborhood in which I grew up there was a cement incinerator in every back yard, representing a time in which our trash was simply burned. This was simple and economical, though not conducive to good air quality.

The things that today we call “recyclable” were then just “trash.” And we burned it. It made me think about how much trash we all carry around in our minds. We don’t burn it. We recycle it and it comes around again in a different format, appearing different but still made of the same material. How many old ways of thinking, old habits, old patterns of behavior do we recycle and use again? Of course, we clean them up, repackage them, and justify their continued use, but aren’t they still “trash?”


I was reminded of a truth that I have come to believe and have observed in my own life – first the natural, then the spiritual. I believe that God is always speaking to us in the natural, a way in which we can hear Him if we will just stop to listen. It is then up to us to make application in the spiritual, paying attention to the lessons He wants to teach us.


Discarding our trash


I don’t believe God is as interested in correcting the city’s Environmental Resources Department as He is in correcting my character. Those things I have been recycling are, after all, trash.

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