Lessons from a Garbage Pail

Allan H. Harvey

I have been observing preachers for at least as long as I have been a Christian. In these many years, I have formed a theory as to an essential quality a preacher must have. That is the ability to take anything that goes on in life, no matter how trivial, and make a spiritual point out of it. Sometimes I think if my pastor cut himself shaving, he'd find a way to use it in the sermon. It is therefore in the tradition of great preaching that I attempt to make a spiritual point from the example of ... my kitchen garbage pail.

When I first moved from an apartment into a condominium of my own, I decided that I had outgrown the traditional bachelor grocery bag under the sink for garbage. So I made a pilgrimage to Target, where I bought one of those freestanding garbage containers with a lid that swings up as it pivots on two plastic posts. It was the last one they had, so I thought I was lucky. Until I got home. When I tried to assemble it, I found that one of the little plastic posts had broken off. As a result, while the lid would still go on the container, it tended to fall in with the garbage if you tried to open it. I thought about returning it, but then (perhaps motivated by my aversion to conflict and confrontation) I decided it should be easy to fix and that I'd just take care of it myself.

I don't remember exactly, but I think it was about 18 months before I finally got around to fixing that lid. In the meantime, anybody who visited me had to deal with my "booby-trapped" garbage pail. When I finally overcame my inertia and worked on fixing the thing, it took me all of fifteen minutes, and now it is essentially good as new.

I suppose the message of this story could be about how silly it is to put off taking care of the little things that are wrong in our lives, when so many of them could be fixed easily. But I have something different in mind. The interesting thing to me was how I got used to that lid being wrong. It became so natural that for several weeks after I fixed it I still found myself grasping the lid by the corner and twisting it up (nearly injuring my hand in the process) as I had had to do previously to keep it in place. And that is the message. When we don't take care of the things that are broken in our lives, before too long we may get so used to things being out of whack that wrong starts to feel right and what is right seems unnatural. The longer something sits unrepaired, the less likely you are to feel like getting it fixed.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this essay are the opinion of the author of this essay alone and should not be taken to represent the views of any other person or organization.

Originally developed in about 1993 at Rose Drive Friends Church, Yorba Linda, California.
Page last modified June 27, 2001