It’s been one month since we emptied the contents of our home into a dumpster.
After our house fire, a friend texted to see how I was faring and to find out how she could pray specifically. She asked, “Are you grieving the loss of any particular thing?”
I wanted to answer honestly, but I could not think of one lost item that had caused me more grief than another. The truth was, I was heartbroken and sick to my stomach over the loss of it all.
For twenty years, we’ve worked to make a home where our children could learn and thrive. We carefully considered which living room furniture would withstand the rigors of growing kids. Is it easier to wipe Cheeto-dusted fingerprints off leather or microfiber? Is the ease of wiping Cheeto dust from leather worth the extra cost?
Over the years, we’ve picked up interesting pieces of antique furniture to refinish and use. Finding furniture for free or cheap was fun and always unexpected. When I found a place for each piece in our home, I felt resourceful, as if I had rescued a bit of history and restored its functionality and beauty.
Most of our furniture was either consumed in the fire or ruined by secondary damage, so we hurled it into a 30-yard dumpster parked beside our deck.
We lost other things too. Favorite shoes that didn’t hurt my feet. The perfect winter coat that blocked the wind but wasn’t too bulky. My 1995 KitchenAid dishwasher, which cleaned dishes better and faster than anything you can buy in 2022. (When I bought it used from someone who was remodeling their kitchen, I actually apologized for buying it for $100 and wished them luck with their new dishwasher.)
To see all these things and more piled in a dumpster broke my heart. It wasn’t that I was so attached to my “things,” although there was an element of that.
What I saw was 20 years of careful investment of time and treasure suddenly rendered worthless and destined for the city garbage heap.
The dumpster is still sitting outside the house, and every time I drive out there to feed the dogs or water trees, I see two decades of ruined home-making, dampened by recent rain and baking in the summer heat—a literal steaming pile.
The sight of it takes my breath away as if I’ve been punched in the gut.
“We are all safe,” I remind myself. “It’s just stuff,” I scold, and I know those statements are true. But the actual ton of trash in the dumpster seems to say, “Your work was a waste!”
“Was it?” I answer the dumpster. Christ followers, by definition, work for Christ, regardless of the location or nature of their work. For the Christian, all work, whether it’s raising kids, stewarding a home, managing personnel, caring for patients, teaching students, driving a tractor, or bottle feeding calves, is work for the Lord. If it’s all done for the Lord, why does he allow it to be wasted? When the child rebels, when students drop out, when crops get pulverized by hail, time and effort feel wasted. Doesn’t he care about the outcome?
Jungle missionary Elisabeth Elliot asked a similar question about her work. She was a gifted linguist and writer who intended to serve Christ as a missionary for life. She spent years translating the Bible into various languages for unreached people groups. By listening to her tribal neighbors and friends, she learned to speak unwritten languages, created alphabets, and translated portions of the Bible for people who had never heard of Jesus.
But over the years, her language work with the Colorado, Quichua, and Waorani tribes, for various reasons, came to nothing.
In her diaries, she wrote about sending the entirety of her work on the Colorado language to a Bible translator in another town. On the way, the suitcase containing her work was stolen, never to be recovered.
In her devotional, she wrote, “I received a copy of the Auca (now known as Waorani) translation of the New Testament. The orthography has been greatly altered since my day, so I can’t read much of it now, but leafing through the pages I thought long, long thoughts. I had had nothing to do with the translation.“
She likened her lost work to the Old Testament sacrifices.
In the Old Testament, Jewish families demonstrated obedience, dependence, and love for God by bringing him their best, unblemished sacrifice. When they did, their best was laid on the altar.
Then it was burned up.
And as it was burned, it was accepted.
Her thoughts have comforted me as I peer into a dumpster full of life investment and careful effort. Alongside coats and shoes, I see my paperbacks stained by soot, reeking of smoke, and unfit to sell or give. I see my son’s Bible, with its charred pages flaking away in the breeze. It is all evidence of a life’s work. Although I did the best I could, it has been burned (or ruined by smoke, heat, or water). But because of Jesus, it is all accepted by God as a “spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).
The apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV).
The fire and the dumpster have reoriented my understanding of what it means to “work for the Lord.”
Perhaps you’ve seen your careful effort steaming in a dumpster. Maybe you’ve scrawled your name at the bottom of a divorce decree. Maybe the ministry God called you to has crumbled under the weight of human conflict.
When we “work for the Lord” and offer our effort to him, it might be burned, ruined, or abandoned, but it cannot be wasted. It is impossible for it to “come to nothing” because nothing offered to Christ is ever wasted. He often uses it for purposes we could never imagine, but he does not waste it.
I am still sad to see 20 years of making a home trashed, but I am reminded of the goodness of the gospel. The gospel tells me that my acceptance before God is not dependent upon my good stewardship, my resourcefulness, or my commitment to making a home that honors him.
It is solely dependent on Jesus! Stewardship and home-making can be burned or ruined, but when I offer myself to God as a living sacrifice in all I do, I worship.
And worship is never wasted.