Today was trash pick up day in our neighborhood. As I pulled our large green empty waste bin back up the driveway, I scrunched my nose and barely peeked inside.
Maggots all over the bottom. Yuck.
The smell had been there for several days - initially just a little phew but steadily worsening. I continued throwing bags of trash inside, pretending there was nothing going on. Then my teenage son said, "That trash can smells terrible." When teenage boys come out from under their ear buds to comment on an odor, it is likely worth noting!
I had been ignoring it for at least a week - or three - until today. I saw it straight up. The nasty juices, the squirmy yellow things, the stench.
And it convicted me.
Not a conviction about how often I clean the large bin or the type of trash I put inside or the need to keep the lid closed in the heat of summer.
I was convicted of my unworthiness of God's mercy.
I can't explain how or why, but as soon as my eyes glanced inside and my throat gagged a little, I heard: All your righteous acts are like maggots in a trash can.
Ouch, God. That was pointed. And also, God, that's disgusting.
In Isaiah 64:6, the prophet says "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." When I read this at face value, I imagine a pile of muddy towels, dirty clothes, grease-stained work gloves, even snotty tissues. All of which seem fairly tolerable honestly. Because my tendency is to minimize my own faults and maximize my own efforts at good. I am a human prone to self-righteousness. But this. This visual of larvae thriving in the most putrid of conditions being comparable to my attempts to "be good."
my positive attitude.
my pride in being better than her/him.
my volunteer hours.
my "I can do it myself."
my meager generosity.
my pulled together self.
These are my maggots in my trash can.
I have legit thought about this all day. And my face scrunches every single time. That is so disgusting, God.
I know, he says. But it will be more disgusting if you keep putting trash in there.
So I took the bottle of bleach outside. Same teenage son said, "Pour the whole bottle in there, Mom." He had no idea how much his words struck me. At first, I poured in half the bottle and diluted it with water. I tried to reserve some of the solution for a future use. After allowing it soak for a couple hours, I went back and dumped in the rest. Because maggots in a trash can require a whole bottle of bleach.
My attempts at righteousness require a whole heart of Jesus.
I get it, God. I can't partially clean my heart. None of this stuff is good enough. In fact, it is not only not good enough, my attempts at righteousness actually make my unclean heart even more disgusting. I admit it. I need a whole bottle of Jesus.
So I confess it. The way I spoke to my kids yesterday. The ugly thoughts about that person I held onto. The hurtful decisions. The lack of humility. The demanding expectations. The justified gossip. The self righteousness that I have this all figured out. Then, like bleach, mercy is applied to my heart. It is cleaned. Forgiven. Ready to live fully.
Sad thing is, given the right circumstances... hot day, some grass clippings, a half-eaten peach... more maggots will grow in my trash can. Take a few things which are not-so-ugly-but-not-so-pretty-either, throw them together, and it will be disgusting all over again. Same thing in my heart.
As long as I live in a world with trash, maggots will show up in my trash can.
As long as I live in a world with sin, attempts at righteousness will show up in my life.
I didn't realize it was that disgusting, God.
Sometimes it happens faster than you think. Don't worry. Now that you know, we can clean it together. As often as needed.
Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.