Years ago, I had a dream. In my dream I was running very fast. I was running the trails of Piney Lakes Pine Plantation. Those trails now form part of the suburbs of Murdoch and Winthrop.
So fast was I running, that the two motorcycles that flanked me sat on 90 km/hour yet struggled to keep apace. They would draw level then fall back, draw level then fall back.
I knew I was running with urgency. I had a plane to catch and I needed to make the airport before my flight departed. Amidst tireless running, I was confronted by and insurmountable lump – a gnarly, gargantuan pile of rubbish. I couldn’t go around it—it was too big and wide. I couldn’t go through it—this was a dream, not a nursery rhyme. I had to go over it.
But I couldn’t.
By this time, the two motorcycles were far off in the distance. Seemingly untroubled by what faced me, I tried to summit the mountain with sheer momentum and will but, even with a run-up, I never got more than half way up before tumbling down to the bottom again.
I tried approaching faster. Approaching from different angles. Zig-zagging up the pile of refuse as though by stealth. Each and every time, I ended up where I’d begun. At the bottom of the mountain looking towards the insurmountable.
Still urgent with fading hopes of catching my plane, I resolved, with resignation, to traverse the heap in the only way unexplored up to this point: slowly.
One step at a time, I climbed. It was steep and treacherous. It reeked with the stench of rotting flesh, escaping methane, and that nasty half-rubbery electrical smell that you gets you each time you torch an electrical appliance. I was advancing, yet also carrying the scars of the mountain and the residue of its contents. By dint of sheer perseverance though, I was near getting close to the peak.
After the lonely and near-eternal climb, I reached the top only to hurtle down the other side – far, far quicker than it ever took to reach the summit.
Now at the corner of Leach Highway and Murdoch Drive, there was no time to lose. Exhausted by my climb, I hauled myself to the airport.
Through some miracle that only comes to pass in dreams where you outrun 90 km/hour motorcycles, I made the flight. Nobody seemed to detect my putrid stench, nor the sweat and sheer exhaustion coming from every pore.
I slumped in the airline seat, totally spent. The plane ascended from the runway to the skies via a non-traditional flightpath: over Perth’s southern suburbs and the pine plantation of Piney Lakes. I gathered myself, eagerly anticipating the enormity of my physical accomplishment.
As the plane passed over, just metres from the ground, I glimpsed the mountain of rubbish: two cassette tapes, one busted open and strewn in a small tangle, a pathetically small white cardboard carton, and child-sized handful of lawn clippings. No more.
Insurmountable? Hardly. Pathetic? No doubt.
Our problems, my problems, the ‘soundtracks’ that we listen to about ourselves (the cassette tapes in the dream) are not insignificant, but with neither context nor perspective, they sure can seem that way.
My first employer was keen to identify recruits with a rare ‘helicopter quality’: an ability to rise above a circumstance to assess the opportunities and threats that the situation presented. My dream didn’t predate my employment so I apparently managed to pull a swifty on that one.
There’s something that the pair on the motorcycles had figured out back then that I hadn’t. Some piles of rubbish are not even worthy of consideration. Others cause endless heartache. Somehow, they saw my ‘pile of rubbish’ with a clarity that I couldn’t.
The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Philippi:
I’m tearing up and throwing it out with the trash, along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung.
That’s not to say that my pile of rubbish was meaningless at the time. It sure seemed to mean a lot to me. Even dog poo is attractive to a fly. Somehow, it was everything.
Walking in, knowing, and following Jesus, will not remove all rubbish from your life. But it will give you and eternal perspective that brings clarity to the size of your pile of rubbish and help you move, step by step, through the valley of the shadow of death. And emerge to continue running the race of endurance.
All of that can seem a little glib and perfunctory when you’re staring up at the pile of circumstance. Who of us, but Jesus, can genuinely know the enormity of another’s burden? The best we can do is remain alert to the sustained avalanche of God’s love towards us in Jesus. A love that is not conquered or threatened by darkness or evil; a love that won’t give in or give up.
Locating ourselves in that love is a life’s work yet it’s not life-taking, it’s a strenuous wholeness.
The simple lifelong prayer of Brennan Manning, “Abba Father, I belong to you”, is one that continues to bring the things of unbearable weight to the arms of inexorable strength. Arms that are built to carry the stuff of heaviness.
The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.