Green-er Grass

Some believe the grass is greener in someone else’s yard when they are unsatisfied with their own lawn. And, by yard, this saying rarely applied to actual dirt. Most of the time, it relates to relationships.

Soap opera writers with a limited supply of characters often resort to this theme to mix things up. Some fictitious locations appear to be rather large since they have hospitals, universities, multi-million dollar businesses, etc.; these aren’t small towns. Yet, the characters run from one love interest to another. They ditch one mate for another, only to wrangle their way back into another go with the original person. They never seem happy with who they are with currently.

Sometimes art does imitate life. How often do we wish we had what someone else has? Thankfully, we don’t see the frequent revolving marriage/divorce carousel like soap opera storylines. But, sometimes, people want the relationships seen in other families. What we see does not convey what lies beneath that green grass.

Either it’s artificial turf or a healthy lawn that takes a lot of work.

Artificial turf relationships are those that only look good in public. These relationships look great because there aren’t any weeds, the grass is all the same color and height, and it’s good for any weather. These relationships look stable and safe. The participants may enjoy the status quo, don’t rock the boat, and co-exist peacefully. OR, it’s all a facade and deeply unsatisfying when no one is looking.

Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates announced they are ending their 27-year marriage. On the surface, they seemed to be stable and giving; their history of large donations and philanthropic work including the Gates Foundation showed a couple concerned with helping others. The initial ripples when the news broke have erupted into a Tsunami of theories about the causes and who to blame, the amount of the settlement, and what happens to everyone they were helping after things get divided.

We will never, and should not, know the details of their personal struggles. Only they and their families (and lawyers) should gain that insight. What should interest us is what lessons we may glean from yet another marriage ending…lessons we can apply to our own.

As one of the richest couples in the world, this news underscores that money does not ensure happiness. Whether poor—or rich—enduring marriages can provide a return on investment that brings joy and contentment beyond what the bank account or stock portfolio could ever do.

Healthier relationships take work. Marriage takes constant maintenance, just like a lawn. Weeds develop that need to be addressed before they take over. Disagreements will happen; address them. Left to fester, they spread. The proper amount of sun and rain nourishes the roots. Keep communicating; don’t stop dating. Nourish the marriage ahead of all other human relationships. Mowing and trimming is needed to keep the boundaries in alignment and readjust responsibilities as events of life change.

These “chores” cannot and should not be the responsibility of one person. Both individuals in a marriage need to take responsibility for “lawn care.” Marriage is not 50/50 – it is 100/100. Both partners must fully invest in making it work.

“…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live.”

While at seminary, I took classes geared for pastoral counseling. One resource I discovered was Passages of Marriage by Dr. Frank and Mary Alice Minirth, Dr. Brian and Dr. Deborah Newman, and Dr. Robert and Susan Hemfelt. Published in 1991, this work was the result of their work and interviewing of couples. They identified 5 stages along with tasks for each stage. What struck me was that you don’t relax and coast until after 35 years or so…if then. There is always work and maintenance to keep your own lawn green so that the yard across the way doesn’t look better.

Scripture has much to say about the sacrifices and labor involved in marriage. They include passages like 1 Corinthians 13 in many marriage ceremonies. We find much wisdom in these verses:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 134-7, NLT

My husband and I are past the 40 year mark and I don’t speak from perfection. We had our fair share of bumps along the way and even got close to discussing divorce at one point. But, with God’s help, we stuck it out and our marriage was restored. I am also not promising that every marriage can (or should be) restored. That is between that couple, their family, and God.

What I know is that healthy grass on your own property beats fake Astroturf.

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