Cleaning Out the Cup
My neoprene muck boots sank into six inches of snow, mud and horse manure with a sucking sound. It was just warm enough for three feet of snow to begin to melt, but not warm enough to make the white stuff disappear. This meant the horse stalls were a soupy, boot-sucking mess while the paths between stalls were covered in heavy, wet, shin-deep snow.
It was a bit like my life.
Most mornings I was able to muck the entire property in less than two hours. It was hard work that got the endorphin’s pumping and my mind quiet. Often I played worship music while I worked and prayed or hummed along.
This morning, however, my muscles screamed and cried with the effort it took to haul that big-wheeled cart full of manure from each stall to its dumping site. I dragged it across the snow, its wheels sinking, inch-by-inch in the bog and my own feet getting caught on what was still ice from last night’s freeze and what had softened in the morning sun.
The tips of my fingers were frozen, I was sweating buckets beneath my sweatshirt, my thighs were shaking with the effort of pulling and my arms were limp with fatigue from heaving the cart end over end to dump its contents. I looked at my phone, trying not to mutter against the worship song that sounded so contrary to my current mood, and wanted to cry. I was approaching three hours of work and still had half the property to go.
As I leaned against the barn, seriously considering quitting, a sled caught my eye. The owner of the property often used it to muck stalls or haul hay in the winter. It took more trips to accomplish the job, but it was infinitely easier.
I ditched the wheelbarrow and grabbed the sled.
The parallel of this moment to my spiritual walk was entirely missed in that moment. Often my walk with God gets hard. I mean, really hard. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the day without doing something stupid or walking out on my circumstances completely. I’ve long since accepted that walking away from God is impossible and not even worth trying (Psalm 139), but my circumstances are a different story.
The previous night I’d gone to a seminar on loving well, and it addressed things like trauma and neglect. My emotional response to that seminar was embarrassing, to say the least. I couldn’t stop crying and had to leave half-way through it. The seminar was supposed to continue the next day and I was determined not to go.
It’s in those moments where the hurt goes so deep, and is so intense, I just want to scream, sob and, more than anything, I just want someone to hold me and tell me it’s going to be all right. To tell me, contrary to every other voice in my head, I can do this. I never thought I’d be this old and still want that.
When I’m mad at God for leading me into such seasons of trial, I usually reach for some kind of “sled” to my wheelbarrow. The season is on the cusp of what I want, but the difficulties seem insurmountable. So I reach for something to make things easier. I’m facing the Grand Canyon, and rather than trusting God when he tells me to jump, I figure I can find a way around it.
In my way “around” the difficulty of mucking stalls, I grabbed the sled.
It could hold about twenty percent of the manure the wheelbarrow could hold. It also had very shallow edges so any slight bump made some of the horse manure fall off and I had to scoop up that as well. But it was easier! I was probably using twenty-five percent of the effort I was using before.
Thirty minutes passed using this method, and as I was cleaning one particular stall, I got furious with how much crap (pun-intended) there was! It was taking me ten trips with the sled when it would have only taken me two and a half with the wheelbarrow!
Cue the light bulb.
Suddenly I heard that familiar, ever-patient voice in the muddy, sloppy mess right there with me. Samantha, this is your heart. We can either use a sled or a wheelbarrow. You choose.
That seminar wasn’t going to heal everything all at once. I was refusing to go to day two because it was going to open a door and show me just how much work there was to do in my heart. Like a kid who shoves everything into her closet, I was content to keep the door closed. Opening it might just make everything spill out - and then what? I’d worked so hard to shove everything inside! And look how clean my room was!
The longer I’m in relationship with the Father the less He’s willing to let me keep shoving things in closets. You can’t be a disciple of Jesus and maintain closets in full of sin and shame in your heart. It doesn’t work.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy - full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs - beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” - Matthew 23:25-27, NLT
I gave up the sled in that moment and grabbed the wheelbarrow. Yes, it was harder. Yes, I was hurting and tired. But there was a lot more to my day than mucking out stalls. I had some fun and relaxing things planned and I wanted to get to them as soon as possible!
The pain of hauling 150 pounds of manure through mud and snow at a time was worth it. It was, in the long run, faster than trying to haul forty pounds at a time.
And I went to the rest of the seminar. I listened, I cried, and at the end of it all a dear friend actually pulled me into her arms and just held me for a while.