Water drop falling on parched, cracked ground. Concept for importance of water resources, breaking the drought.

I kicked a gas pump last week and shouted a word I hardly ever use. The gas pump gave me 1-2 gallons of gas and then shut down, and I had to cancel the transaction and start the process all over again. And then I took my car through the car wash, which trapped it between its brushes and took small chips of paint hostage. And then I waited for two hours while the clerk waited on everyone else before he could file my incident report. What a waste!

We don’t like waste and we go to great lengths in this country to conserve and compress and dispose of our waste wisely.

I’m not writing about plastic bottles and gas-guzzling cars. I’m writing about a deeper waste that we all feel somewhere in our stories.

  •  There is the waste of a marriage – whether it be two years or twenty – that ends with words of heart shattering squander: “We’ve been together all this time and have nothing to show for it,” or “I never loved you. I just wanted to get away from you.” The judge validates the waste by proclaiming the marriage is irretrievably broken – wasted. There’s even the intact marriage where there is no trust, no friendship, no connection or communion. A waste of a marriage.
  • I’m sure you know the waste of painful relationship – a relationship that you’ve trusted, poured your heart into, and relied on; until one day for no reason, good, or bad reasons, the relationship withers away like droplets of water poured into the desert.
  • There is nothing like the pain of seeing our children seemingly throw their lives to the wind. We’ve prayed for them, nurtured their gifts, and anticipated deepening relationships; and then substance abuse, mental illness, bad choices, a cancer diagnosis, not meant for a child, makes us shake our heads at the inexplicable waste.
  • I have friend who started a booming business before the crash of 2008. He travelled the world and accumulated successes until the locusts of failure and bankruptcy ate everything. He sat in the ruins of the waste, certain he could never show his face to people again.
  • I think often about those bright and shiny gifted people we put on pedestals who fall into waste. We shake our heads at their wasted giftedness, and quickly pull all their books and sermons from the shelves, so we don’t have to be reminded that believing in them was a waste.
  • I have another friend who was sexually abused by her pastor for ten years – trapped in the cycle of shame, despair, and hopelessness. A lot goes to waste in ten years.
  • I listen (for only a few minutes) to the political candidates, turn off the television, and think, “Really, is this the best the most powerful nation on earth can do. What a waste!”
  • Of course, I feel most deeply my own waste – waste of money, relationships, time, grace – in the black hole of addiction.

I suspect your own stories are flooding your brain with painful memories you’ve tried to forget, cover, and compensate for by trying harder, doing better, making it count.

heart and blood on wooden background, medical symbol concept

It’s not that we have so little time but that we lose so much . . . The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.
-Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

The Terrible Waste

Most of us store this waste up like we might need it someday. We become exhausted holding down the pain, keeping in the toxins, and building up resistance to ever being vulnerable to feel wasted again. Because of my recent brush with acute renal failure, I’ve learned a little about what happens when you hold on to waste. When our kidneys fail to filter waste from our blood sufficiently we are at risk for:

  •  toxic exposure to environmental pollutants
  • acute and chronic disease
  • severe thirst
  • trauma

water jet filling a glass on white background

If you take a teaspoon of salt, stir it into a glass of water, and take a sip of the water from the glass – Ich! The water is too salty to drink. If you take a teaspoon of salt and stir it into a lake, then take a glass of water from the lake and take a sip of water from the glass, the salt is completely dissolved in the vastness of the lake.
-Linda Graham, The Power to Heal Toxic Shame

The Beautiful Waste

The Bible is filled with strange stories, and there are two stories about waste that are compelling, and yet, so foreign to our natural tendencies to not waste, to hide waste, and to be ashamed of waste.

One story is in the Old Testament. David, the pride of Israel who led armies to slay thousands of enemies is on the run – hiding in dark caves, paranoid about his enemies, and plotting to become great again. He had lost so much – the pride of his countrymen, his integrity, and his family. I think maybe he was feeling the parched waste of a life when he said to his raggedy band of soldiers, “Oh, that one would give a drink of the water of Bethlehem . . .” I think David was thinking of his hometown, of a time of innocence, of a tenacious faith that fueled him to fight wild beasts and slay a giant. Maybe he was remembering that unfathomable day when the prophet Samuel showed up to anoint the next king of the nation. After surveying all of Jesse’s fine, qualified sons, he asked, “Are all your sons here?” You can almost hear Jesse scoff, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is just a shepherd.” To everyone’s surprise Samuel looked at this handsome young man with beautiful eyes and said the words no one expected, least of all David, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”

David’s soldiers weren’t thinking metaphorically, and so they risked their lives to sneak through enemy lines to bring a pitcher of water to David from the well in Bethlehem. I imagine their anticipation of his delight and satisfied quenched thirst; but this is where the story gets strange.

David refused to drink; instead, he poured it out to the Lord.
-1 Chronicles 11:18

Can you imagine all that stirred in the hearts of his soldiers – confusion, anger, hopelessness. What a waste.

The Waste of Strange Women

This story might become obscure if not for some stories in the New Testament about strange women. All of them pour their tears or expensive perfume to wash the feet of Jesus. One woman, who crashed the Pharisee’s dinner party, used her tears (she must have been weeping like I do when I watch one of those emotional episodes of Grey’s Anatomy) and expensive perfume (perhaps the proceeds of her prostitution) to wash Jesus’ feet. The outraged hosts of the party wondered what she was even doing there, and then in seeing her action, they exclaimed, “What a waste!”

BANSKA STIAVNICA, SLOVAKIA - FEBRUARY 5, 2015: The detail of carved statue of Pieta (Mary of Magdala) as the part of baroque Calvary from years 1744 - 1751 by Dionyz Stanetti.

Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing . . . but she has soothed my feet with perfume. She has done a beautiful thing!
– Matthew 26:6-10

Waste and Worship

Waste strangely can be a path to life. The source of hope for our desire to love and be loved; to have mutual, authentic relationships; to find meaning in this disintegrating world is is to let go (pour it all out) and let God transform what seems like waste into worship.

The only ones who can accept the path of Jesus are those who have nothing to protect, not their own self-image or their reputation, their possessions, their theology, their principles of their certitude.
– Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go

How do we “pour out” all that has seemed like such a waste? I am grateful to the storyteller, Rod Bell, for his thoughts on these stories in “What to do With Waste.” He suggests a ritual or a ceremony where we pour out something to symbolize that we are not holding that waste within us any more. I love that idea, and I’m thinking of all the pouring I need to do.

I am also thinking of a daily ritual – when my heart and mind swirl with anger, fear, doubt (and a desire to kick a gas pump) – that I need a moment (okay, many moments) of saying, “I surrender. I’m pouring, laying, throwing this at your feet.”

And He calls that beautiful.

Of course He does, because in that seemingly greatest waste of history when the God of Glory became the King of our waste. He knew all that waste would be so painful. He prayed to His Father, “If there’s anyway this cup can be taken from me, please take it.” He knew all that He was to pour out. He hung stripped and naked to that tree pouring out His tears, sweat, and even blood. I imagine all those droplets falling into the dry earth. I suspect His followers who peered out from their hiding places, and especially His mother who saw her child – who could out-think and out-talk religious scholars grow into a man who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and encouraged the desperate – she must have agonized, “What a waste.”

It was not until all our waste was poured out through Him, that He said, “It is finished.” He died, and those strange women sat vigil at his tomb surely wondering what was happening in this seemingly God-damned world. They looked like lonely, foolish women who had squandered their outpourings on the wrong man.

But then . . . but then the earth reeled and rocked as the stone fell from the tomb’s opening. An angel  – a messenger of Good News – said, “Go tell everyone that He is risen from the dead.” They went to find Jesus, and once again covered his feet with their tears . . . and worshipped Him.

Maybe the best we can do is to take all those confusing, painful stories of such prodigal waste and not try harder, do better, or never let anything slip from our grasp – but to limp Home with dusty feet and all our losses and hand them to Him, saying, “Here. They are all yours.” Despite our fiercest attempts at conservation, we don’t eliminate the waste, God does.

As Rich Mullins sang, “Surender don’t come natural to me . . . .”  I tend to take surrendered things back, and so if you hear me muttering, “Here,” a lot, you’ll know why.

“I am already being poured out as a drink offering.” 2 Timothy 4:6