They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It’s an age-old adage, and I’ve heard it since I was quite young. I’ve understood it as a warning to not covet what others have, and I’ve done a decent job living that way. What I have failed to do until recently, though, is dig a little deeper into what it truly means.
Many might be moved to comment something like, “You need to learn how to love what you have, and be grateful for what God has given you.” And while I think those are true sentiments and make a great deal of sense, it’s not always quite that simple. I believe that a fascination with a neighbor’s grass says less about the grass and more about one’s feelings of lack in life.
Sometime not too long after we’re born, we experience a second birth. This second birth is our awareness that we are individuals, separate from everything else. It is at this point that we experience for the first time a sense of lack—a lack we believe can be filled by things, relationships, circumstances, careers, a set of religious beliefs, and countless other idols. We spend a great portion of our lives in pursuit of what philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins calls the “Sacred Object.”
As an artist, I spend a great deal of my time doing what Hamlet advises his players to do when he tells them to “hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.” One would think I might be able to see more clearly the type of folly that is the chasing after the phantom called certainty and security. But, alas, I am not. Instead, I have broken relationships, ruined opportunities and even injured myself in my various attempts at acquiring what I thought others had and I lacked.
What I am learning to come to grips with now is a simple truth that being whole and complete is not something that this life has to offer. That’s not to say that I believe what happens after this life is what’s important either. I don’t have any idea what if anything happens to us after we die. That would be the other side of the fence.
When I look on my own side of the fence, I see, time and again, that I have been called to help my neighbor and spread love and forgiveness where there is none. The symbiotic nature of our existence, I am finding, is demonstrated in how we love one another. Love connects us and unites us all.
To be content means to give up the quest for the Sacred Object and accept that it doesn’t exist. In the giving up of this desire, we find our purpose in loving and serving others. The return on this investment is far greater than you can imagine. The other side of the fence suddenly looks a lot less green than the garden that has begun to grow right inside your own heart.