Recycling, Shame, and Ambivalence


When I dropped our recyclable container at the end of the street, I noticed that our address had been worn off. I then drove down our red trash container and took a marker to mark our address in bold numbers on the blue recyclable lid. Monday, when I picked up our empty container, I noticed another container with our faint, faded address. Dread settled into my stomach, “How could I have made that mistake? Maybe I have had the wrong container for two weeks without realizing it.” I had an ominous feeling that haunted me. Each day, the container sat at the end of our street. Really? Who cares? I don’t care which container I have? But, obviously, someone really did care and each day of the week I had to drive by the lone recyclable container that had once been ours.

I hate being wrong. I hate not being perfect. And I don’t like having a sensitive spirit that keeps me from having peace. That shameful container at the end of the street began an onslaught of accusations of what I don’t do right and my sloppy incompetence weighted me down. Everywhere in our house and yard I looked became an accusation of being a failure. This was also the week that Dan fishes each summer and I had the fantasy of rest and uninterrupted reading while he was gone. My fantasy was truly a fantasy and the week was fraught with anything but rest and ability to concentrate and read.

My mornings were disrupted with a summer cold and my workout goals were on shaky ground. Some mornings it didn’t seem wise to get to a 6:00 a.m. class. Other mornings it seemed unwise to sabotage a goal by not making the class. Many moments I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t by the crushing wheels of ambivalence.

There is a theological concept of “already but not yet” found in Scripture. In Hebrews 2:8-9 it says, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (ESV). Salvation has come and yet we wait for the moment when all things will be restored. We live in the era between the coming and the full glory to come. It is an age of tension: fullness has come and fullness is not yet.

I often get caught not being at peace with not being at peace.

Was I making a mountain out of a molehill? It didn’t matter. I was tormented day and night. I am sometimes ambivalent about being alive. I should reach out for prayer. I should reach out to someone. But I didn’t.

Dan arrived home and I shared my shameful mistake with the recyclable container. He groaned with me and that only made me feel worse! He suggested I take the container down with a note of apology. I emptied our five days of my recyclables and taped a note apologizing. I rolled it down to the end of our street feeling exposed in my incompetence. To my horror, someone had finally taken it away. I couldn’t bear to wheel it home and left it there and high-tailed it home swiftly without rumbling wheels on the asphalt. I begged Dan to drive down and get it. I couldn’t escape my shame no matter how many times I prayed or tried to work it through, but asking for a covering from having to go down again began to restore my addled heart.

We can’t resolve shame alone. We need the presence of someone not caught in our mire to snatch us out of the flood. As I heard the wheels of our purloined recyclable container on the stones of our driveway I heard the Spirit say, “Becky, you are a blessing even in your ways that don’t measure up. You are my beloved and those rumblings of not being perfect are not from me.”

I wish that my week of agitated indictments had not happened; but they did. The thief was roiling my heightened ambivalence and working to pulverize me under the weight of my shame. It didn’t win. It can’t win when I am able to be well in not being well and trust that God’s kind face is true no matter how damned I feel. I filled my recyclable bin with a smile and left it the following week with a note that said:

“My Error: Your Bin. Glad to trade. Glad to keep what I didn’t mean to steal. All is well.”

It is.

This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.