My husband has been working really hard on the front yard landscape of our home. We bought our house a little over two years ago and the previous owners had not done much to beautify the front of the house. And our house has such potential to be gorgeous! Cute front porch, lovely hillside, and it rests on top of a hill. Our entire neighborhood is filled with homes that are beautifully landscaped. You drive up a street that is lined with beautiful trees, green grass and a variety of flowers and plants, then you turn the corner onto our street and there stood our house: bleh.
For months, we had talked about just what to do with the front of our home. We drove the neighborhood over and over again looking at everyone's front yard, trying to gather ideas for our own yard. Once we figured out what we'd like to do, then comes the issue of cost. Ugh. Buy one plant at a time, then buy a tree or two, then add some lights, oh and by the way, redo all the electrical and the entire sprinkler system because it was previously done incorrectly. Our home is only 11 years old, but everything from the inside out was as though it had just been purchased. Before we knew it, we became quite jealous of all the neighbors whose yards were already done and no longer required work. Looking at their homes, we definitely could see that the grass was greener over there. And we wanted what they had. And we were irritated that we didn't have the money when we needed it. We were frustrated that we had to wait until each pay period to buy a couple things. For months our front yard was a mess: dirt piles, plants unearthed, the EZ-Up serving as shade for my husband, and plants that were on their way to the big nursery in the sky. It looked like it was never going to be the beautiful yard we had imagined.
And then, while my husband was outside watering the grass, a neighbor was walking by the house when she stopped to talk with my husband. She complimented him on his work, she told him that each day she'd pass by our home on her walk and she could see that he was working hard to turn it into something pretty. She told him that his hard work greatly improved the outside of the home and she just felt the need to tell him. He worked hard to transform our yard from unattractive to eye catching and it was noticed by a passerby. Let me tell you something, my husband was beaming with pride. And our yard is even more beautiful because of the hard work and sacrifice he put into it.
Sometimes our marriages can be like my front yard. Unattractive, a lot fixing and redoing, and seemingly endless work. But when we put in the hard work, it can become something beautiful.
One of my many struggles is that of envy. You know that saying, "the grass is greener on the other side?" I have to remind myself of that almost daily. And it's not just limited to other couples or marriages, it includes the envy of a nicer car, a better body, prettier hair, wealthier living, even seemingly perfectly behaved children. I remember having a conversation with a coworker about how much we admired a particular family that would come into our office. The mom was pretty and fit, the dad was good looking and funny, their kids were adorable, and you could see they had money to spend. As time went on, the mom was becoming even more thin, which we food lovers envied. "She obviously watches what she eats and works out, it's nice that her husband works so she can stay home." Her husband would come in occasionally, and he was always so friendly to each of us. "What a great guy, she's so lucky. My husband doesn't have his sense of humor." What it lead us to believe: their life is perfect, the grass is definitely green over there. Fast forward some months later, the wife came in, looking unlike herself. When asked how things were, she broke down in tears. They were getting a divorce. Things had been bad for years. They each sought another outside of their marriage. The cost of lawyer fees drained their accounts. She was becoming so thin because she was depressed. What happened to such a seemingly perfect family? They didn't water their own grass, they didn't work hard on their yard...they fell for the enticing greener pastures. And the realization of what we saw: things aren't always what they seem.
The want of what we can't have has been an ongoing internal battle for human beings since the beginning of time. Look at Eve, she wanted that forbidden fruit because the enemy enticed her with its beauty and its promise to give her wisdom. She was drawn to what she couldn't have...and why? Because it sounded so good. She couldn't see the wrong in taking just one bite. That fruit wasn't what it seemed to be...and the enemy made sure of that, much like he does with all the things we desire but don't possess. God knew that the want of what we can't have would be a struggle for humans for the remainder of all time...so he used Moses to lay down the law:
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male or female servant, his ox or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17
Covet? If you're like me, when I first heard the word covet, I had not a clue what that meant. Covet means to desire, to crave or to yearn for something that belongs to another. I would say that God chose the perfect word for that commandment. He didn't use the word "want," and he didn't use the word "like." Nope. He chose "covet." For a very specific reason. I also love how he starts listing things not to covet, your neighbor's house (I'm pretty sure that includes the front yards my husband and I were coveting), your neighbor's spouse (uh, I've been there before), your neighbor's servants (do kids count as servants?), then God started listing things like the ox and the donkey, and I think at that point He was like, "ya know what, if it ain't yours, leave it alone."
Now, you may be looking around your neighborhood and thinking, "nothing to worry about here. I don't desire my aging next door neighbor and I don't envy the parents of those brats across the street." But, the word "neighbor" isn't restricted to those living within walking distance of you. In Luke 10, an expert of the law wanted to test Jesus and asked Him how he can inherit eternal life; Jesus was like,"bro, you tell me what's written in the law, how do you interpret it?" The expert recited: "love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27). But the expert had one more question..."who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). Jesus went on to share a parable about the Good Samaritan who helped a man that had been attacked, beaten, stripped and robbed. Others walked past the man and intentionally avoided him. But the Samaritan took pity on him, bandaged him, took him to an Inn and paid for his stay. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the expert, "which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" To which the expert replied, "the one who had mercy on him." (Luke 10:37-37). What was Jesus saying? Who is our neighbor? Anyone and everyone. That means your coworker, your best friend, your kids' teachers, your postal carrier...everyone you come in contact with is considered your neighbor.
Uh oh...now that we know whom God considers to be our neighbors, maybe we should re-evaluate that commandment. You may not covet your aging next door neighbor, but what about the husband of your friend? You may not covet the beat up Buick in the driveway a couple doors down, but what about the brand new Mercedes the mom of your daughter's friend is driving? Now the game has changed. And if you're like me, you can write a list of things you want but can't or don't have that others possess.
For years, our marriage was my ugly front yard. It appeared to be doomed and it was on the road to dissolution. I envied everybody around me. I coveted their marriages. I coveted their men. I coveted their lives. I desperately sought greener grass, I completely ignored my own yard. During the time my husband and I were separated, I began a relationship with another man. He met every need that my husband couldn't. I quit on my husband. I turned off the water and let the grass die. He was going to have to reseed somewhere else. We were that couple that came into my office. Nobody knew we had such problems in our marriage and then one day, our whole life was exposed and everyone was shocked. Things weren't what they seemed. I later found out that others had been coveting our marriage, well, the fake marriage that they saw from the outside. They didn't know the truth of what was going on behind closed doors. They wanted what they saw: high school sweethearts, firefighter husband, part-time working mom, two adorable cherubs for kids, (ok, that last part may be a biased comment), a house and nice cars. To them, our grass was so green it was being confused for Astroturf. I can promise you they were no longer coveting our marriage once it was exposed.
God works in amazing ways...that relationship I had with the other man fell apart. It gave me the chance to revisit my marriage. I made my way back to God. I started paying attention to the man I married. We worked on it. We fixed and rebuilt. We watered the grass we planted years ago. With hard work, sweat, tears and long days, our marriage went from being that ugly, torn up front yard into something beautiful for others to see. Our hard work is obvious, especially to those who walked through it with us. But that's the point. Without that hard work, it could have never grown into something that could be admired by others. And, like any garden, it takes continuous work. Continually watering, replanting, and caring for it.
Ultimately, we don't know what it took for our neighbors to transform their front yards into the landscaping we admired. They may have gone through the same thing: dirt piles, frustration, shortage of money and feeling like it would never be right. All we saw was the finished product and we wanted it. We coveted it. We couldn't stop thinking about. We wouldn't be happy until we had it. We felt inferior because we didn't have what they did. But we worked at it. And when that woman complimented my husband on his hard work to transform it, he knew that the work was worth it.
We don't always know what goes on in the marriages of other people. We see one thing, it looks desirable and suddenly we can't stop thinking about it. We look at our own marriages and think, "I'll never have that as long as I stay married to this guy." You know what? Someone is saying that about you. Someone out there is admiring what you have. Someone out there thinks your grass is greener than theirs. We're all so busy thinking about what we don't have, that we're neglecting what we do have.
There's a reason God tells us not to covet what doesn't belong to us. He made sure it was one of the 10 commandments! It can ultimately destroy what He has so carefully planted in our lives. Pay attention to what you have growing in front of you. It's true: the grass will always appear to be greener on the other side....but remember that the enemy is over there fertilizing that grass with a bunch of, you guessed it, poop. He will do anything to make your eyes wander, make your heart lust and make your cravings burn. Keep your eyes focused on the garden God has planted at your feet. It may take time and work, a little bit of sweat and some elbow grease, but you have the chance to water your own grass and make it flourish.
The dirt piles aren't forever. One day, the dirt will fill all the holes and all you'll see is the beauty of your hard work and perseverance. Put on your garden gloves, it's time to do a little work.