After a summer or two, the neglected bird bath in my garden needed to be trashed. I dragged the heavy object and heaved it into the apartment complex’s dumpster. A few days later I noticed my discarded bird bath on the third floor neighbor’s balcony along with eight patio chairs, a few tables, and assorted garbage. One woman’s trash is another man’s treasure, I thought with amusement.
As the months wore on, it became clear that things were not well with this individual, the garbage kept piling up on his porch and his mini-van was a mess strewn with paper, bags, and boxes packed with who-knows-what. Often he would have bicycles or tables or dressers strapped to the top of his van. He was a one strange man.
It wasn’t until he was evicted that my suspicions were confirmed—that man was one of the 3 million hoarders living in the United States. While outside chatting with other neighbors, the contractor hired to clean out the man’s apartment joined our conversation. He told us of the horrors contained on the third floor—bugs, fecal matter, dirty dishes, clothes, and more. He invited us to come take a look.
Against my better judgment, I climbed up the stairs to the third floor. The stench was evident as soon as I entered the building and increased with each step I took. Finally, with my shirt pulled up around my nostrils, I witnessed a scene so gross I thought I might throw up. To say the apartment was trashed is an understatement. It was like the city dump in there. Not only did the man who once lived here picked through the trash, it appeared as though he never threw anything out. Ever.
Disgusted, I rejoined my neighbors and told them about the gross living conditions on the third floor. I pitied the people who would one day live in that apartment, never imagining it could be made clean. Though part of me wanted to mock and ridicule this man, another part of me pitied him. How could he be so lost amidst all that trash? What type of phobia or anxiety would cause a human to live in such a state?
Then it hit me. I live the same way—making mud pies in my sin instead of sand castles with the freedom found in Christ. Not only do I hoard my problems, trying to keep them from people, and from God, who knows all things, I think I am OK as long as no one can see into the windows of my heart. But I know my trash spills out onto the ones I love for I hoard bitterness, anger, and fear in my heart. It takes the clean-up crew of the Holy Spirit and an extra measure of grace to clean me up time and again. And when I think about my human condition—playing in trash—it is easier for me to have compassion on my former neighbor and those like him.
I’m a hoarder, too. Just a different kind of hoarder.