The grass is always greener on the other side…
Have you ever felt that way? I have.
Life can be hard and disappointing. At times, what another has looks like a better deal. It’s from this place of discontentment that envy is born, and envy, if left unchecked, will always give way to covetousness.
“Why is my neighbor’s grass so green while I’ve got dirt patches and weeds?”
Sometimes, life feels unfair, even unjust. Sometimes, it is. It’s a fallen world, after all. Evil is real. Injustice is real. Oppression is real. Sickness is real. The yards of our lives can hold dirt patches and weeds.
But, sometimes, the problem is our myopic view of the circumstances.
The story of Joseph stands out, here (Genesis 37;39-45): sold into slavery by his brothers, lied about by his master’s wife, thrown in prison and forgotten. The Bible doesn’t go into great detail about what Joseph was thinking or feeling as his life unfolded, but there is evidence that whatever situation he found himself in, Joseph did his best to the honor and glory of God, and God blessed his efforts.
From the outside, the kidnapping, slavery, false accusations, and imprisonment may have given the appearance that wicked people had much greener grass for their wicked acts than Joseph did for his faithfulness,
It wasn’t just the evil plans of wicked hearts at play in Joseph’s story. God was at work, too.
Whether Joseph was able to see God at work all along, whether he struggled with discouragement or doubt, we don’t know, but we do know he recognized God’s hand in the story of his life at the end.
His brothers fearfully asked Jospeh to forgive them for the abuse he had experienced at their hands, and Joseph declared, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” Genesis 50:20.
The dirt patches of Joseph’s story came together in a redemptive way when Pharoah set him as ruler over all the land of Egypt making him only a little lower than himself in position and power (Genesis 41:40-45). Being in that position, Joseph was instrumental in saving people’s lives during a horrible famine.
You and I aren’t in a place to sit in judgment over anyone’s story (our neighbor’s or our own) because we cannot see the beginning from the end. I don’t mean we aren’t to discern right and wrong. We can and we should.
It was wrong for Joseph’s brothers to kidnap him and sell him to slave traders. It was wrong for his master’s wife to attempt to seduce Joseph and then lie about him when he refused her advances.
Wrong is wrong, and we shouldn’t be afraid to declare it as such. When the wrong is actually a crime, we shouldn’t hesitate to address it through the legal system.
But, we are not the ultimate Judge presiding over the story of the world or the story of our neighbor or even our own stories. We would do well to remember everyone’s story is marred by sin and suffering no matter how great the story may seem from our vantage point, and no story is beyond redemption no matter how wretched the story may seem in the moment.
From far away, most yards look lush and green. It’s when we get up close that we see the imperfections.
We don’t know other people’s stories with the same intimacy we know our own. We might be surprised to learn of the sparse, dry places of our neighbor’s suffering or the weeds with which they must contend.
Of course, the grass looks greener on the other side. It always will when we’re far removed from the details. To know a person requires we draw near them. It means we have to let go of comparing yards so we can share lives.
Loving people looks like “rejoicing when they rejoice and weeping when they weep.” It means dancing with them in the lush, green places of their stories and sitting with them in the dirt patches. That’s our calling as God’s people: to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).
Comparison kills compassion and it forfeits an opportunity to bring glory to God by letting His love shine through us (Matthew 5:14-16).
The banner over the lives of God’s children is His sovereign goodness. That doesn’t mean that everything that comes into our lives is good in and of itself. It means all the evil that comes against us and all the suffering that touches us, God ultimately flips on its head so that in His perfect time it will all work out for our good (Romans 8:28) and His glory.
Giving thanks in all circumstances is not the same as giving thanks for all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The focus of our gratitude is the sovereign goodness of God, not the goodness of our circumstances.
We live in a world where there are accidents, diseases, wars, natural catastrophes, and corruption of every kind. And, though, for those who have placed their faith in Jesus, we have been made alive and are being made new (Ephesians 2:4-7), our fallen condition has not, yet, been fully eradicated.
We still experience broken bodies, minds, emotions, and desires. All this taken together means we will continue to experience dirt patches in our stories, but these places will hold no less meaning than the lush, green places and will work for the same ultimate good. It will all be glory in the end (Romans 8:18).
Besides, what can we change about our own lives by wishing for what our neighbor has? What good thing can we wrestle for ourselves by envy and covetousness?
Envy is one of the stupidest sins, the only one that never caused a single moment of even false joy. – Peter Kreeft
If we think this life is about having the greenest grass, we will keep our eyes on the ground in comparison. If we understand this life is about loving God and others, we can lift our eyes up, and as the hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
How green my neighbor’s grass is shouldn’t matter if this world isn’t where I’m laying up treasure.
My neighbor is what matters. I’m laying up treasure where moth and rust cannot corrupt and thieves cannot break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21). If that Kingdom is the one I’m living for, then in this kingdom, I’m free to love God and to love others.
So, yes, maybe your story is greener than mine, at least in some places, and maybe my story is greener than yours, at least in some places, but this life isn’t a competition; it’s a journey and one best traveled together in love. Grass fades, but love is eternal.
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Psalm 103:15-19
Some questions to consider…
Do I trust God with what He allows and doesn’t allow?
Might God be at work in ways I can’t see right now?
Am I more concerned with my neighbor or what my neighbor has?
Where am I laying up treasures, in this life or the life to come?