photo from MarthaStewart.com
So there’s a notion that’s been bouncing around evangelical Christianity for a while that God is into recycling. I’m not talking cardboard here, I’m talking pasts. The idea is that God is able to redeem and use our pasts for His purposes when we put our trust in Him. While that is spot on, the idea of the “recycling” metaphor has always bothered me. You see, when something is recycled, it’s generally destroyed. Paper is pulped. Plastics and metals are melted down. Though it’s always remade into something, the original item is lost. For example, I have a t-shirt that was made from plastic bottles. It looks like a regular cotton t-shirt, nary a bottle in sight. 🙂 It’s a nice shirt, but what constitutes the shirt is completely lost. And, in this case, that’s okay. (Can’t imagine walking around sporting a 6-pack of Dasani.) But the point is that at the end of the day, when something is recycled, it ceases to exist on its own in its original form.
In my experience, the same cannot be said for my past. God hasn’t pulped it. He has pulped the sinful part, if you will–the part that created the chasm between He and I that only Christ could bridge. Absolutely. And it won’t be recycled or reconstituted. It’s gone. But the rest of the experience is still there. The lessons learned. The memories. All there. Not pulped. Not reconstituted. In short, NOT recycled. However, they have been UP-cycled.
Up-cycling is taking something and making it better. Sometimes it is used for a different purpose, sometimes it is used for the original purpose but is more beautiful or more efficient. For example, a recycled jar will be crushed, melted down and made into some other glass object. An UP-cycled jar will become a candle holder you hang from a tree in your back yard to offer light on a cool summer evening. (Especially if you happen to be Martha Stewart.) A broken plate becomes jewelry, a cardboard box becomes a desk organizer or even a mini scrapbook album. Yet, whatever the items become, they are never completely destroyed. Instead, what they were becomes integral to what they become.
When I think back over my life, there are many parts that make me wince a bit. Foolish choices. Dumb decisions. Words I can’t take back. Comments I can’t “un-hear.” There are parts, too, that I’d like to call back and celebrate a little more. It’s all there. And it’s all me. Every experience, good or bad, has shaped me and made me who I am. Now, who I am is not who I am becoming. But I don’t think God has any intention of recycling my past, because He has no intention of losing the “me” that’s been created and shaped through all those experiences. What He has done, and what He continues to do, is upcyle me. He’s making me into something better and more beautiful than I am. He’s taking those experiences and reframing them–it’s not about the sin anymore, that’s gone; it’s about the lesson learned. He’s allowing me to become both a student and a teacher. There are lessons I’m still learning and lessons I can now teach because I have learned them. He adds His fingerprints, His Spirit, His righteousness and takes me from being a jar containing garbage to a jar-turned-candle-holder giving off His light. The “me” at the core is still very much there, integral to the “me” I’m becoming. It’s upcycling. And He’s the greatest Upcycler in history. Just ask Joseph from the Old Testament or Paul from the New Testament. Ask Augustine of Hippo, or Martin Luther. Ask John Newton or GK Chesterton. Or hey, just ask me. I’m not as brilliant as those fellows, but I’m alive….and I’m being upcycled by the Great Upcycler.
Just a little something to ponder….