This article first appeared in Daughters of Promise magazine, January/February 2015. If you are interested in more information about this Anabaptist magazine for women, you can contact DOP online here.
After weeks of packing without knowing where we were moving, we were almost there. Just a few more miles to our new home,but I was still looking for a ram in the thicket! Maybe, just maybe another place had become available and we hadn’t gotten the word. We had not even unpacked, but I’d already decided there’d be no green grass here.
A few years earlier, we had moved to another county – and attended a small country church whose culture was different from mine. I had no problem worshiping there and occasionally teaching a class. We weren’t sure how long we’d be there, so I didn’t want to invest emotional energy and time because when we found another church, then I’d plug in more. Plus, less than a year later, we had our third baby in three years, and Busy was my middle name.
I expected folks to meet my needs, but I sure wasn’t looking for ways to meet theirs! When my kids were older, then I’d have more time to help.
And, as in many churches, there were issues that made us uncomfortable. I justified my feelings on the premise that when I could support leadership more, then I’d plug in.
I never even asked God to show me His plan for me in that church. I just knew there was greener grass in other churches, so why waste my energy on sparsely planted seed and poor soil nutrition when my gifts could be better used elsewhere?! Shame, shame!
Looking back on our move to that small church and later that town, I shake my head. Now those feelings seem insignificant and selfish, but at the time, they were very real. Then the grass looked greener elsewhere. Why I couldn’t see the forest for the trees is beyond me. You’d have thought I would have learned by this time to trust God’s heart when I couldn’t trace His hand.
I never told anyone my feelings in those situations. While I might have put up a good front to others, I didn’t fool God. He had placed me right there in those pastures and, while I said and did many right things, my heart wasn’t there. Shame on me!
How often I’ve wished I could go back and redo those scenarios. I’d plug in more quickly instead of waiting for others to become the right kind of people or prove themselves to me first. I’d invest in others for the cause of Christ because since this is where God planted me, it was where the grass was greenest.
Looking back from the other side of the fence, I easily recognize that the issues were not so much my community, church, career, or my clan. It was my attitude of not wanting to invest and give because I felt I had the right to withhold my support. Shame on me again!
There was nothing wrong with that 200-population town – except that only one other family boasted children, sixty percent of the folks were retired, and daily walks to the post office brought scrutiny from neighbors where everybody knew everybody else’s business even when it wasn’t their business. Folks wondered why we’d moved there with no relatives in that town. Old ladies sat on their porches watching our every move. An unrecognized vehicle brought phone calls from neighbors, trying to figure out if we had family visiting or if that was the dryer repairman. Our three-year-old visited an elderly neighbor every day and regaled us with town talk. Who knows what he reported to Thomas as they visited in the side yard: Jason on his tricycle and Thomas puffing his cigarette!
It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize the importance of being a witness for God, or that I was unwilling to have Him use our kids. I just saw no green grass here, and I wasn’t ready to embrace this spot as my mission field. Truth be told, I didn’t feel like belonging to this town even though God had placed us on that side street. Shame on me for living in the when mode!
In time, lush green patches appeared. Folks warmed up when Dave started working in their homes to bring in more income. Word spread (everybody’s business, remember?). Before long he had more work than he could do on the side, so he started his own business – thanks to those folks who didn’t mind their own business.
This the-grass-is-greenest-there mentality has been around since the serpent questioned Eve in the garden. We can’t wait to finish school, get a driver’s license, find a job, have a boyfriend, get married, have kids, own a house, get a better job, or retire. Instead of enjoying where we are, we focus on the when instead of the now. Constantly foraging for greener grass elsewhere affects the way we experience life.
Looking back on my responses to unwanted situations, I recognize that often I’ve done the right things externally but failed to engage my heart. Because we’re alike, I know each of us can look back and see times when we’ve held back or withheld support. We’ve been guilty of living in the when . . . then mode with our clan, community, career, or church.
- A sibling takes sides with another sibling. I disengage and attend family functions less; when he realizes how wrong he is, then I’ll participate more.
- As a single gal, I wish I had a husband who loved me; when I get married, then I’ll be happy.
- A leader steps on my toes when he addresses a topic, so later when he asks for volunteers for an activity, I sit back; when he quits meddling, then I’ll be supportive.
- The new supervisor at work isn’t my cup of tea; when the supervisor shapes up, then I’ll give her my support.
- When I planned an event, volunteers were scarce; when someone else is the coordinator, I wait until last to respond. When they see how hard it is to spearhead something, then maybe I’ll help.
- It’s not easy being married without children; I just know when I have a baby, then I will be fulfilled.
- I didn’t get the promotion. It’s hard to watch others succeed when I’ve been deflated. When I get recognition or a promotion, then I’ll be supportive and get on board.
- I know my husband has needs, but he doesn’t always treat me with respect; when he starts meeting my needs, then I’ll be willing to meet his.
- I don’t get elected for a position at church so I decrease my attendance; when they realize how hurt I am, then they’ll be sorry.
- I can’t have company because the plaster is falling off the walls; when my house is fixed up, then I’ll start having guests.
- I don’t like my pastor (his wife, his kids); in fact, his personality bugs me. I don’t agree with his stance on some things, so I hold back my support. I might attend, but you can be sure I’m not going to plug in. When he changes, then I’ll let God use my gifts.
- I know God commands tithing, but I have so much debt; when I get out of debt, then I’ll tithe.
God has something to say about rooting under the fence for greener grass. He gives direction for our wanderlust in Jeremiah. The Israelites were captives in a strange land. As prisoners, it would have been easy to just exist there. After all, this wasn’t their land and those people weren’t their people. It certainly wasn’t their religion or their king. I suppose they planned to hunker down for the long haul, waiting until when because God had made promises to their ancestor Abraham. I’m pretty sure I know what the Israelites were thinking: when we get out of bondage, then we will be able to really live. While God told them not to do that, He also left them with a plan, and He was specific about what they were to do.
No matter where our “bondage” finds us, there’s a plan for living as captives. We like to quote Jeremiah 29:11, but we fail to recognize those directions beginning in verse 4.
Jeremiah 29:4-7: This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, say to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The Israelites are captives, and Who brought them there?! It seems the green grass is gone. They have no clue how long they’ll be living in this barren land. God has a plan, and it can be summed up in a few words: Don’t just exist; build. Settle down (quit fighting it!). God said, “I brought you here, so this is where the grass is greenest.”
And, while you’re held captive [in a town you don’t like, a church in which you’re not in sync, a dysfunctional family, a difficult job, a marriage that’s harder than you ever imagined], listen up! Don’t fight the bondage and don’t look across the fence; the grass isn’t greener there.
Build houses, plant gardens, and then harvest them right here. Have children, watch them grow up, and grow old here. Oh yes, and don’t forget to pray for this place you call bondage. The grass is greenest here. By the way, while you’re a prisoner [in your career, your clan, your community, or your church], pray for the peace of this city, including its captors!
God wasn’t asking His people to become like their captors or to succumb to their captivity. He was asking them to do much more than exist while entrenched in that city. He asks the same of us today.
Your walled city might not be your choice of community, clan, career, or church.
This captivity could be a place you never dreamed you’d be. Your side of the fence may be the painful consequence of someone else’s choices, or of yours. Either way, God has brought you here. Instead of wishing for tomorrow, embrace the moments today, allowing Him to restore your soul. Don’t waste years of waiting for the next event or a grand utopia. You’ll be around for the harvesting of that garden, so plant it well.
The grass is greenest wherever He has placed you. Until the Shepherd leads you to other pastures, the grass is greenest – right here, right now.