Discovering Jesus behind the Trash Can

This excerpt from Paul Miller’s, A Praying Life, was poignant to me, both in terms of marriage and raising my children.  

Imagine that Sue’s husband, Joe, takes out the trash every Tuesday. It’s his job. Last week he forgot to take it out , and then again this week. He’s usually good about taking out the trash, but Sue tells him, “Honey, you forgot to take the trash out agin.” She says again with emphasis and more than a little irritation.

What’s behind her irritation? Why does she feel compelled to add a twist to the word again? Because it is a hassle to take out the trash. It makes her late for work. If she doesn’t say again, then her husband will keep forgetting. If he doesn’t see that this is becoming a pattern, she’ll be taking out the trash for the rest of her life.

Notice Sue’s underlying assumption: “It all depends on me. If I don’t show him, no one else will.” God is absent from her thinking: consequently she believes it’s up to her to make her husband hear her words. If he doesn’t, she fears she’ll be swallowed up by his forgetfulness. … She refuses to accept the possibility of endlessly taking out the trash on Tuesdays. It is unacceptable.

Sue is in charge of her life, determined to make her kingdom pain free. Even if she prayed, prayer would just be another weapon in her arsenal of control. God would likely disappoint her, and she’d end up bitter at both her husband and God. Ironically, self-will often becomes a self defeating prophecy. The berated spouse pulls back; he not only stops taking out the trash, but he also stops opening up his heart.

Self-will and prayer are both ways of getting things done. At the center of self will is me, carving a world in my image, but at the center of prayer is God, carving me in his Son’s image.

It never occurs to Sue that God might want her to take out the trash for the rest of her life, because to do so would mean she is letting her husband take advantage of her. But isn’t Jesus endlessly taking out the church’s trash? Isn’t this action another way of loving an enemy?

What would happen if Sue puts off self-will? She doesn’t know.  How will God intervene in her husband’s life? What does God want to do in her life? What beams will she discover in her own eye? Forgiving her husband would mean losing control.

If Sue surrenders her self-will, she will join Abraham walking up Mount Moriah with Isaac. She will join David as he puts down his knife when Saul is within his reach in the cave. Sue is abiding. She has lost control of the story.

When Sue shifts from self-will to a prayer fellowship, it feels scary, as if she is jumping over air. In fact, she is leaving the unstable foundation of her own self-will and entering the stability of God. She is living out the prayer, your kingdom come, your will be done. Instead of trying to create her own story, Sue will be content to let God write his story. If her husband’s forgetfulness turns into a habit, she’ll be drawn into deeper prayer fellowship. The trash is likely the tip of the iceberg in his life. He might have issues of self-will, laziness, or just plain selfishness. Sue will have fewer words for her husband and more words for God. She’ll also reflect on her own heart. Are there any areas of her life where she does the same thing? She’ll discover Jesus on the other side of the trash can.

9 Responses to Discovering Jesus behind the Trash Can

  1. Lisa February 6, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    I want to offer another alternative to Sue taking out the trash and picking up the slack for her husband. Boundaries. Let the trash pile up. The problem with stepping in and doing and trying to feel “Christian” about it is her resentment that eventually would surface. And the husband's heart would still be closed up, Sue doing what he needs to do for himself. Can prayer change your husband? Yes. Does it happen fast enough? No. And I struggle.

    I LOVE your entries, your honesty about the anger, even this entry tho it bugs me. Keep up the good thinking work!



  2. Wendy February 6, 2011 at 2:45 am #

    Lisa, I don't think your suggestion is out of the scope of what Miller is saying. I like it. Though I think boundaries too can become a control tactic of the self-will apart from prayerful abiding in Christ.

  3. Emily February 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Ah this is a sticky post! It really made me think and review a few situations in my own life. I think it comes down to two issues – balance and relationship. Maybe there isn't a single answer for situations like this, maybe some days we just need to extend some grace to the forgetful party. Maybe some days we need set and maintain a boundary, but the answer can only be found in relationship – with God and our spouse. And as this pushes us deeper into our walk with the Lord, perhaps this causes the response endorsed by the writer without limiting God's way of dealing with it, or dealing with us.

    Thanks for sharing. It really made me think.

  4. Wendy February 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Thanks, Emily. In another section, he discusses how praying for his children caused him to make two opposite decisions over the same issue at different times. There may be a time for one and a time for the other, but we are dependent on God in prayer for knowing when His will is dictating the difference and not ours.

  5. carole February 6, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I like this a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  6. strengthfortoday February 7, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    I think people are too complex to say “this is the answer, unequivocally, in every situation.” We need the Holy Spirit. We need to pray. We can't sort this stuff out merely according to how something “makes good sense” (I seem to remember something about not leaning upon our understanding…).

    I've thought often about how Christ healed the blind. For some, He used mud. Others He simply called them to Himself. On one occasion, a man seemed “partially” healed (remember him? “I see men as trees walking”) and was later completely healed. How come? I don't know. But generally there seems to be a principle that things are very often not one-size-fits-all. 🙂 KWIM?

  7. Wendy February 8, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Absolutely, Diane! 🙂

  8. Saralyn February 9, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp names control “a pseudopower from the pit.” We take matters into our own hands, thinking we have a better plan and a better way than the Savior himself, the One who holds the very universe in his hands, yet knows when the sparrow falls. I am so guilty of this, thinking anger or manipulation or laying blame inch thick will change hearts and situations, when “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

    Thank you, Wendy, for this reminder.

  9. Barbara H. February 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    While I agree Sue's attitude in handling it was wrong, I don't see a problem with saying, “Honey would you get that?” nicely, especially if you know your husband doesn't mind either taking out the trash or the question and jokes about his own “male blindness” (his term.)

    I agree with the issue the writer is addressing, that we must allow God to work on people in His time and way and not think we have to help Him along, but I don't think submission either to God or husband means we can never ask or mention issues like this to our husbands.