By Kim Longden
My mom went to be with the Lord six months ago, and one of the things we brought from her kitchen to ours was her trash can. If you knew my mom and had ever been in her kitchen you would know exactly what I’m talking about—her beautiful, Amish-made, solid-wood trash can. This waste receptacle was one of her favorite kitchen pieces and something she had always wanted. Her excitement over the selection and purchase of this trash can is a special memory for us—such a great reminder to find joy in everyday things!
So now mom’s marvelous trash can is in our kitchen, and its presence brings about mixed feelings for me. Some days I look at it with fondness and think of my mom and what a blessing she was. Other days I’m angry that mom’s trash can is in our kitchen because that means it’s not in her kitchen anymore, which means that she’s not in her kitchen anymore, either. These mixed emotions can be a little overwhelming to comprehend at times.
On a practical level, though, the most striking thing about having mom’s trash can here is simply the fact that it’s not located where our old trash can used to be; we’ve had to form a new habit of going to a different location to throw stuff away. This turned out to be a bit disorienting for all of us. Our kids, who tend to be creatures of habit, were especially frustrated by this upsetting of their normal patterns of behavior. They suggested that we just keep both trash cans set out so they wouldn’t have to deal with breaking the old habit and establishing a new one.
In my efforts to encourage them, I tried to recall a “fact” I had learned, that there was some magical number of times that you needed to do a thing differently before a habit would be officially broken and a new one formed—twenty-one times stuck in my memory. But upon more research we found out there really is no magic number after which we’d be free from the old habit and established in the new. We would need to just keep pressing forward for an unknown amount of time—some days nailing it and other days wandering around the kitchen with trash in our hands.
Mom’s trash can and the disorienting feelings—big and small—it produced, along with our desire to know how long it would take to get through this change reminded me of how I often wonder the same thing in seasons of hardship.
How long, Lord? How long will this grief last? When will this broken relationship be restored? When will things get back to normal? Twenty-one days? Twenty-one months? How often I wish I could have a timeline, so I don’t feel like I’ll be wandering around in these difficult seasons forever!
Or, like the kids’ suggestion of avoiding the issue by keeping both trash cans, I often ask God to just make the problem go away so I can avoid the pain of walking through it. Of course, God can make the problem go away, and I don’t think it’s wrong to ask, but in looking back over my life I can see God’s wisdom in not making every problem magically disappear. In hindsight I am starting to see the rich truth of Romans 5:3-5:
“For we know that [problems and trials] help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment…”
(Romans 5:3-5, NLT)
Endurance, strength of character, hope, the ability to encourage others going through similar circumstances … things that would be missed if all my hardships just miraculously disappeared.
Similarly, the small act of NOT keeping both trash cans helped my kids see that they can handle disorienting changes—moving forward one step at a time. And the best part is that we weren’t wandering around the kitchen alone! We’d celebrate with each other when we nailed it; and groan with and encourage each other during our frustrating trash-in-hand kitchen wanderings.
In the same way, God is showing me that when I’m wandering through trials and hardships, I do not walk alone. Jesus walks with me. Jesus comforts and encourages me with His word, through fellow believers, and his Holy Spirit living within me.
Rather than giving me the timeline, charts, and graphs I think I need, Jesus invites me to keep my focus on Him. True peace is found in Jesus, regardless of circumstances, because of the confident hope Romans 5 talks about. This confident hope of salvation means I know how the story will end no matter what. The peace I have in Jesus is not a fleeting feeling but a permanent status. No matter if I’m nailing it or wandering around the kitchen of life with trash in my hands, my status does not change and my hope will not be disappointed.
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.”
(Romans 5:1-2, NLT)
As we wander through yet another holiday season full of unknowns, maybe Jesus is inviting us to keep our focus on Him. Rather than trying to avoid or downplay the struggle, maybe we can experiment with trusting in the midst of the trouble. When you find yourself aimlessly wandering around with trash in your hands, maybe you can look up and see others in a similar state and share a smile and a word of encouragement.
As frustrating as change can be, we’re not in this alone. The peace of God (which really does transcend all understanding!) will guard our hearts and minds as we take one step at a time knowing that the Prince of Peace walks with us, even in our wandering.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13, NLT)