A bit of colloquial wisdom in our culture that is generally accepted (though rarely practiced) is captured in the expression, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” This expression basically translates into a plea to learn to be satisfied with where you are because satisfaction is based more on the person than the environment or context.
Fine. There’s some kernel of truth here.
But there is also a great deal of foolishness and an unnecessary justification of stagnancy wrapped up in this principle.
Theres’s a story in Mark’s Gospel (and actually several stories throughout the gospels) that would seem to indicate that “the other side” is a very valuable place to pursue both for ourselves and for others. In Mark 6 Jesus and His disciples are emotionally and physically spent. They need a break and something to eat. So Jesus instructs them to get into their boat and try to find a place where they can be alone, away from the crowds. But, like paparazzi at a Kardashian family reunion, the crowds can’t fathom giving them any privacy. The people race around the shoreline of the lake and actually beat the disciples to their own spot. When the boat docks Jesus and His friends are facing the same group of needy folks they just tried to get away from.
Now from a certain perspective it seems that the old adage about greener grass is confirmed. Jesus and the disciples set out for “greener pastures,” a place where they could get a break, and instead they find that going somewhere else doesn’t change their situation. But, as we can often be tempted to do, we are seeing the story from the perspective of the main characters. Granted, this is what we have been trained to do in modern literature and film, but, as is often the case, a slight adjustment to our perspective yields a great deal of insight.
What about the crowds who sought “greener grass” on the other side?
The crowds, who refused to be satisfied with the green of their own pastures, ended up receiving the personal compassion of Jesus, as well as the most bizarre serving of fish and chips in the history of the world. They were taught, blessed and miraculously fed dinner ALL BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO STAY WHERE THEY WERE.
Being a Christian does not immunize us from frustration, foolishness or ignorance. We still make bad decisions, we still prioritize life in ways that, in hindsight, prove to be pretty stupid and selfish. But one thing that is supposed to characterize the Christian faith is the idea that we are not people of stagnancy, we are not those who pitifully accept that where we are is where we must be. If we look at what God frequently tells His friends and called-out people – Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah, and the twelve disciples to name a few – we find the Lord’s instructions filled with motion and momentum, seeking and searching, walking and exploring. God makes a habit of telling several generations worth of Hebrews to “go.”
Leave your land.
Leave the place where you are (even if it isn’t your land).
Walk out of bondage.
Walk across this sea.
Walk across this river.
Walk up this mountain.
Walk around these walls.
Move into your new home.
Walk out of the land of your conquerors and go home.
Walk around the broken walls of your home land and then tell everyone to walk out of their homes and start fixing things.
And eventually Jesus Himself would look at a dozen men and, in full God-character, ask them to leave the places and things they knew and, “follow Me.”
Part of the Christian confession is that we believe there are unfathomable depths of beauty, love and novelty within God, and so we find great value in pursuing intimacy with Him knowing that the better we know Him the more fulfilled we will be. But this fulfillment is predicated on the idea of movement. We must be willing to see what happens on the other side.
The crowds could have camped out at the dock where Jesus and the disciples set sail, hoping that they would return after lunch and a nap. In fact, this is what we in the modern church often call “faith.” But I’m not so convinced this is actually faith. Waiting and wishing for another chance encounter does not sound very relational. And faith, as far as I can tell from the Bible, is based in relationship. While Hebrews calls faith the “substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen” it does not say that faith is disconnected from the source of that unseen hope.
Moving to the other side is not necessarily an act of impatience, it can be an act of passion.
It doesn’t make us bad Christians, or faithless believers, to be dissatisfied with our current condition; as if God is looking for masochists who are willing to happy about a life they hate. It is the seed of the gospel, the promise and hope for all things to be made new, that should drive us to seek the other side. Where we see pain, hunger, injustice, depression, brokenness and anything else that is a symptom of human sinfulness and rebellion – when we see those things in our life or the lives of others we should feel very uncomfortable where we are. We should be looking for another side to show the world. We must show the world the side of beauty, the side of love, the side of mercy, the side of grace, the side of compassion, and the side of provision. We must show the world this side because this is the other side where Jesus is.
So move. So go. So pursue. Do it today.
Don’t let the boat of grace sail out of sight. Gather yourself, your family and your friends and start running around the shoreline. Look at the trajectory of things and anticipate where God’s presence might be found next in your life, and pursue it until you’ve been taught and fed.