[This blog entry first appeared as an article written for Seedbed's Soul Care Collective. The vision of the collective is to provide resources designed to encourage individuals in personal soul care and to equip them to care for others within the context of their own vocation, all from a distinctly Wesleyan perspective. Please visit them at soulcarecollective.seedbed.com.]
Like many towns, the city in which I live has numerous ordinances for dog ownership. In addition to posted “leash laws,” signs in public parks and walking trails urge owners to “be a good neighbor and clean up after your dog.” Seeking to heed these directives, my dog-walking paraphernalia always includes a couple of plastic bags for that very task.
One of my other dog-walking habits is to recall Scripture I have memorized and then use the verses as a springboard for prayer. On a recent walk 2 Corinthians 2:14 came to mind. Silently I began, “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ…” My concentration was suddenly snapped as my dog abruptly stopped, sniffed the grass, and then “did her business.” Being the good neighbor, I pulled out my plastic bag, picked up the canine deposit, and knotted the bag. Refocusing, I began again. “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ, and who, through us, spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” After reciting the verse, I began to pray, “God, thank You that You lead me in victory. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I want to overflow with the aroma of Christ. Wherever I go, God, I want my life to have the fragrance of the knowledge of You.”
Just as those words crossed my lips, the wind shifted and blew across the top of the bag I was holding. The scent of my dog’s “business” wafted upward in a pungent assault on my olfactory system. “Nasty!” I thought with a cringe. Trying to prevent any further escape of the noxious odor, I retied the knot at the top of the bag. As I pulled it tight, I sensed the Holy Spirit gently whisper, “You cannot have the aroma of Christ when you carry that which stinks.” My pace slowed as I reflected on that statement… and on my current predicament.
Lost in thought, the last mile of my walk was a blur as the catalyst of that truth reacted with the reality of my heart. God’s softly spoken observation gently exposed a soul riddled with frustration and acidic with resentment. How did I get that way? The root of my unhealthy condition is beautifully expressed in Sarah Young’s classic devotional “Jesus Calling.” Writing from God’s perspective she accurately identified my behavior saying, “When something interferes with your plans or desires, you tend to resent the interference… Intellectually you rejoice in My sovereignty… but when My sovereign will encroaches on your little domain of control, you often react with telltale resentment.”
Nearing my home, the less-than-fragrant attitudes I had been carrying into meetings, rehearsals, and dare I say, even church services, became as real as the bag in my hand. The ugly truth was that as much as I wanted to “spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume,” my sarcasm only spread the knowledge of harbored frustration, resentment, and anger. And, frankly, it was most certainly not “like a sweet perfume” to those around me.
Turning the corner, I became very conscious of the unpleasantness of carrying “that which stinks.” Offering God’s prescription, author Sarah Young continues, “Try to become aware of each resentment, however petty it may seem. Don’t push those unpleasant feelings down; instead, let them come to the surface where you can deal with them. Ask My Spirit to increase your awareness of resentful feelings. Bring them boldly into the Light of My Presence, so that I can free you from them. The ultimate solution to rebellious tendencies is submission to My authority over you.” To this skilled suppressor, this was a winsome invitation from the Holy Spirit.
When I arrived in my driveway, I couldn’t wait to just let go of the bag and drop “it” in the garbage. Opening the lid to the trash can, I released the bag: offenses, unforgiveness, and all the crappy attitudes (pardon the pun) that had accumulated along my recent journey. With a resounding “whump,” the bag landed at the bottom of the can.
I cannot tell you how freeing that confessional experience was, except to say that when the breeze carried along the fragrance of the nearby blossoming lilac bush, a sweet assurance of God’s grace settled my heart and mind. The Passion Translation expresses it this way, “Many are the sorrows and frustrations of those who don’t come clean with God. But when you trust in the Lord for forgiveness, His wrap-around love will surround you. So celebrate the goodness of God!” (Psalm 32:10-11a).
Now here’s the rest of the story. While I would love to say that this was a onetime experience and I never wrestled again, the reality is that a trip to the trash can has become a vital spiritual practice. Life and ministry are full of opportunity to choose to “carry that which stinks,” but I am learning to more quickly let go of “it,” and sometimes, by God’s grace, to not even pick “it” up at all.
So, how is it with your soul? Are you carrying around “that which stinks?” Receive and accept God’s invitation today. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG). Thanks be to God!