The grass is always greener on the other side is a familiar saying that means no matter how good I have it, there is always something that looks better. No matter how much I have, someone else has more, and its better, and I want it. No matter how green my grass is, the grass on the other side of the fence always looks greener and nicer and I want that kind of grass. The reality right now is that everyone’s grass is pretty green, but my grass has a lot of different shades of green in it thanks to the weeds, but when I look at my neighbors grass,it is all the same shade of green because they don’t have any weeds, and I wish I had that grass.
Believing that the grass is always greener on the other side also implies that my life would be better if I had what other people have. If my grass was as green, and lush, and beautiful as my neighbors, then I would be a happier person. I would feel better about myself, and my neighbors would like me more, and people would respect me more, because my lawn was perfect. But let’s be clear, we aren’t talking about greener grass here.
The grass is always greener is a cliché we use when we look around and see that one thing in someone else’s life that I don’t have but if I had it, my life would be better. If I just had a new car, or a new job, my life would be better. If we just had a dog, or cat, or a child or another child then our lives would be better. If I just had darker hair, or curlier hair, or maybe you are thinking, if I just had hair… then I would happy. Take a moment to think about how you would fill in this blank.
If I just had , I would be happy.
It may not be a thing you would put in that blank, it might be a situation in life. If I could just get out of debt, retire, get out of school, get into school, I would be happy. The problem with this way of thinking is that it never leads to contentment and peace for two reasons. First of all, this way of thinking always leads to wanting more. There is always another fence, another yard, someone else’s life for us to look into, so the longing for more will never end.
The second reason this thinking doesn’t work is that we are placing our happiness, peace and contentment in some possession, or place in life, and when we look to the world to make us happy, we will come up short every time. We will see in a moment that even if we were to get everything that we think we need to make us happy, it will fail, and there will always be something more we want just beyond our grasp. This greener grass phenomena not only robs us of peace and joy, but it actually destroys our life.
In the 4th century, Christian leaders identified 7 sins that they said would lead to death, we know these as the 7 Deadly Sins and they are greed, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, wrath,and sloth. Do you notice anything about this list? 5 of the 7 are directly tied to the idea of wanting something more. Gluttony, lust, greed, and envy, all have to do with never being satisfied with what we have, and they are defined by an all-consuming desire for more. We want more food, more sex, more possessions, and more of what other people have. Pride is also connected to this idea of greener grass and wanting more because it is pride that tells us that we deserve more and we should get what other people have.
Even wrath can be seen as a desire for more because the definition of wrath talks about a revenge that is never satisfied. In its purest form, wrath may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath may persist long after the person who did the grievous wrong is dead. In other words, wrath is never satisfied. When we are filled with wrath there is no punishment or vengeance that is ever enough.
So 6 of the 7 deadly sins are all connected to this idea that there is always something more that we need in order to be happy, satisfied, and full. There is always something better for us just over the fence and our lives won’t be complete until we get it. This thinking destroys our lives, and while it is a cliché, we all struggle with this greener grass syndrome.
When I was pastor in Altoona, our youth group joined with a group from another church for a weekend retreat. Doug was one of the leaders from the other church, and Doug had it all. He was good looking, he had a lovely wife, he had three beautiful daughters, and everyone in his family sang like angels. They would often sing together in church and they always reminded me of the Von Trapp family. Doug was funny, loved by everyone in the church and the community, and had a strong family business.
He had it all, and I tried hard not to be jealous or envious of him, but then on the youth retreat he pulled out a guitar and started to play and I thought, that does it, I hate him. I know, that is not what a pastor should be thinking or feeling, right? But the guitar playing just put it over the top because I always wanted to play the guitar, I even took lessons, but I was never very good. I wanted that greener grass. Suddenly I wasn’t satisfied with what I had, I wanted more.
That night, as Doug played the guitar,I thought I was keeping my feelings well hidden, but later one of my youth leaders said to me, you’re turning a little green Andy. And I was, green with envy.Comparing ourselves to others and wanting what they have, thinking that if we could just get what they have then our lives would be better, and we would be happy, robs us of the joy we can find in life and fills us with attitudes that, in time, will consume us and eventually destroy us. Envy and this greener grass syndrome is one of the ongoing themes of the Old Testament.
After God led his people out of slavery in Egypt, God wanted to be the leader of his people. God worked through judges and prophets to lead his people, but God himself wanted to be their king. As the people of Israel looked around them, however, they saw nations that had a real king, a human king, and that was what they wanted. Suddenly God as their king wasn’t good enough, they wanted someone they could see and they wanted to show the world that they were just like them, maybe even better. So in 1 Samuel 8:5b the people said, appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.
The people actually believed that what the other nations had was better, and they wanted God to give them a king like other nations had, so God finally gave in to the people and appointed a king. God chose a man named Saul who was an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others. 1 Samuel 9:2. The people wanted to look like all the other nations so God gave them a king that looked better than all the other kings. They had what they wanted, but it didn’t go well because this king was a human being, who like all human beings, was broken and flawed and filled with jealousy and envy like the people were. His failures often led the people astray.
Longing for greener grass was not just something the people wrestled with, so did the new king. Not long after Saul became king, a giant named Goliath started to taunt the army of Israel. As tall as Saul was, he was no match for Goliath, and no one in Israel wanted to fight Goliath, until a young man named David came along. David wasn’t very old when he faced Goliath, and if you know the story, David killed the giant with a slingshot and a well-placed stone. As news of this victory started to spread among the people, they cheered both Saul and David. 1 Samuel 18:6-9.
So let’s think about this, Saul had everything. He was the king, he had power, and authority, he had great wealth, and the admiration of the people. It was even one of Saul’s own men who took down the enemy. Saul could have celebrated what David did and given him a reward up to half his kingdom and Saul would still have had more because he was king. But it says that Saul was angry. Why? Because David got a better song lyric than he did. The song said Saul got his thousands while David got his tens of thousands, and that one thing drove Saul crazy, literally.
It was a line in a song that slowly started to eat away at Saul’s life. Even with all that he had, Saul wanted more. Saul wasn’t content with power, authority, wealth, and admiration, he wanted to be the focus of this one song too; he wanted all the admiration of his people. This jealousy, envy, pride, greed and lust for greener grass literally destroyed Saul. Saul couldn’t get David out of his head, and from that moment on,Saul spent his life trying to kill David, in fact, it was the next day that Saul, in a fit of wrath, picked up a spear and threw it at David trying to pin him to the wall.
The grass is always greener on the other side is not just a cliché, it is something we all struggle with and if left unchecked it will eat away at us and destroy our lives. Like Saul, we can obsess over what we don’t have and be consumed by the thought of this one elusive thing until it destroys us,or we can learn how to celebrate it. One of the ways to free ourselves from the greener grass syndrome is to learn how to celebrate what others have.
If I had celebrated the fact that Doug was a good guitar player, and how that gift helped our group worship on the retreat, then maybe I wouldn’t have been so green with envy. If Saul had been able to celebrate with David the victory over Goliath, maybe his time as King would not have been a disaster. If we can begin to celebrate the gifts we see in others instead of wanting them for ourselves, then we can short circuit the jealousy and envy that we often feel in our lives. When we start to give thanks for what we see in others, it begins to add joy and improve our lives instead of destroying them.
To break away from this idea that the grass is always greener on the other side we need to learn how to celebrate what we see on the other side and what we see in others. The second way to break free from envy and jealousy and greed is to trust God. We need to trust that where we are and what we have right now is what God wants for us in this moment. We have to trust that God is enough for us and that God will always be enough for us.
It is David who gave us a psalm that helps us see this. Psalm 23 was written by David and it says, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. The green grass syndrome is cut short when we trust that God is our shepherd because if God is watching over us, and if God is leading us, then what we have and where we are is where God wants us to be for today, and if God is our shepherd than God will be the one who will provide for us, and lead us forward. So if God is our shepherd we truly shall no want.
When we trust God as our Good Shepherd, there is nothing more we need or want because we know God will provide it all, in His way and in His time. Green pastures, still waters, a restored soul will all be ours with God. On our own, we will always want greener pastures, but as we trust God we learn to be content with the green grass we have. On our own we will always think that what others have is better, but when we trust God, we are content, and refreshed and at peace with what we have.
While this is easy to say, it is hard to live. David said this and he saw the effects of envy and jealousy in the life of Saul, but he didn’t protect himself from the greener grass syndrome. After David became King, and had been given everything he could ever want, he went out onto his roof on night and looked out over his kingdom. He saw a beautiful woman bathing and he found out the woman was the wife of one of his top generals. David didn’t celebrate the fact that one of his leaders had a beautiful wife, no, he wanted her for himself. David sent for this woman,and slept with her. David wasn’t trusting God, and he wasn’t celebrating what others had, he was consumed with a desire for more. He wanted to have that woman for himself.
This story doesn’t end well for David. The woman, Bathsheba, became pregnant because of that meeting and so David had her husband killed so he could have Bathsheba,and their child,for himself. That led to great division in David’s family, and in many ways diminished David’s life. What David’s tragic story shows us is that even if we get what we want, it doesn’t satisfy.
There will be times when we will all find ourselves longing for greener grass. We want what others have. We think that if we could just get that one thing – then our lives would be better. When we find ourselves in this situation, we have three choices:
1. We can spend our lives trying to get it and die trying.
2. We can get what we want and then find it doesn’t satisfy.
3. We can trust God, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, and we can celebrate all those good things we see on the other side and all around us.
Let’s not waste this life longing for a different one, let’s not be consumed by thinking that if we could just get that one thing, then our lives would be better, and that we would be happier, instead, let us celebrate what we have and learn to trust that God is enough and let us say with assurance, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side
1. If I just had , I would be happy.
- Fill in this blank.
- Why is this greener grass so important to you?
- How have you tried to get this greener grass on your own? How did it turn out?
- If you see this greener grass in someone else’s life, how can you celebrate what they have instead of wanting it for yourself?
2. The 7 Deadly Sins are greed, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, wrath and sloth.
- How do these attitudes lead us to wanting more in every area of life?
- Why are they called deadly sins?
- Which of these sins do you struggle with most often?
3. Read 1 Samuel 18:6-11. What do we learn from Saul about always wanting more and never getting it?
4. Read 2 Samuel 11:1-26. What do we learn from David about always wanting more and getting what we think will make us happy?
5. Read Psalm 23. How can trusting God help us not want?
- In what area of your life do you need to pray, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
- Read this psalm every day and make it your prayer.
6. What would it look like for you to trust God with the greener grass you identified in question 1? How can Jesus as a good shepherd help you let go of this desire?