Lessons From A Garbage Can

This is a garbage can.

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It looks like an ordinary, run-of-the-mill garbage can, and it is…and it isn’t. You see, this garbage can has become a bit of an extension of our family. We spend time with it, we care for it and it has taught us many things. This all sounds a bit strange, so let me explain.

Several months ago at church we heard a sermon that challenged us to fix the problems that we found. The message was basically that if you see a problem and it is bothering you, then maybe you should be the one to help find a solution. After all, if it’s bothering you that much then it’s probably something that’s already near and dear to your heart.

The first problem that came to mind when I was listening to the sermon was our park. We have a wonderful neighborhood park across the street from our house that is well-loved and much-used by kids from the surrounding area. There is a playground and a basketball court in the park, so we spend many, many hours there–rain or shine. I know all of the kids who play there and they all know us. I spend so much time there that I feel like it’s “my” park.

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You can imagine my annoyance, then, when I would get to the park each morning to find piles of trash lining the basketball court and littering the fields. How dare these kids come to my park and leave such a mess? Who was going to clean this up? And that’s when it hit me: I was annoyed by this problem because I needed to be the one to fix it.

We had an extra-large garbage can from when we were doing some home improvement projects and I got permission from our homeowner’s association to chain it to one of the hoops in the park. Then we went to work.

I started by gathering together all of the kids who frequent the park and showing them the garbage can and how to use it (I didn’t want to leave it up to chance that they’d actually know how to put their trash in the can). Then I had them all help me tidy up the park. I told them we were going to have a race to see who could get the most pieces of trash in the garbage can in 5 minutes–they all won! (wink, wink).

It’s been about 6 months now since we first put the garbage can in our park. David and I still go to the park almost every day, but now the first thing we do when we get there is collect litter to put in the garbage can. David has taken ownership of the park that he uses so frequently and he enjoys lending a helping hand.

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I explain to David that when we pick up litter we are helping the environment and helping to keep our park safe and clean for everyone. More importantly, though, David is learning that he can solve problems. He can do his own little part to be Jesus’ hands and feet in a world that is full of problems. And, some day, he will find his own problems–and instead of running away from them he will fix them.

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