Mary and I bought our first house in 2001 in Lawrence, Kansas. The guy next door to us had been in his own home for a long time – and it showed. If nothing else, it showed because of his lawn.
His was a picture-perfect lawn. Thick green grass, perfectly manicured. His backyard was accented by fruit trees. His fence stood up straight.
The comparison between his lawn and mine was rather stark. My yard had one half-dead elm tree in the front yard. The grass grew in clumps, and there was plenty of exposed dirt across the expanse of my yard. Whenever I mowed, I kicked up so much dust that you couldn’t see from one end to the other. The lawn mower literally bounced across the yard as I pushed it across the “turf.”
And I won’t even tell you about my fence, which leaned in one direction or the other, depending on which way the wind blew. And the wind always blows in Kansas.
They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. In my own case, this was literally true. The grass was greener over there.
And despite my best efforts to keep up – or even catch up – with my neighbor, it was not going to happen. Fortunately, we sold the house about three years later, so I was freed from my quest.
Have you ever found yourself in that position, where you can see quite clearly that someone else is much better off than you in some area of your life? And there’s just no way you are going to catch up? Sometimes, it just seems like a few special people catch all the breaks and whatever they touch turns to gold. Meanwhile, we are slaving away with marginal results.
Of course, we don’t think about how hard those other folks worked for the “breaks” they got, or the skill they developed over a long period of time in their jobs, in their parenting, in their landscaping techniques, etc. The fact of the matter is that in certain moments, we simply feel frustrated with our lot in life. Things don’t go our way, and we grumble.
Genesis 36 is about the descendants of Esau. As you read it, you might notice this genealogy comes with relatively little detail. Generation follows generation with almost no comment. But you also might notice the recorder of this genealogy tells us that this was a family that grew into a nation – the Edomites – and that was populated by chiefs and sons and kings and warriors. These were people who won wars and who reigned over their homeland. Most importantly for our Bible reading, these were people who had a homeland. They possessed land.
This is how it went for the family of Esau. Things seemed to go pretty well for them.
The rest of the Old Testament tracks the history of the family of Esau’s twin brother, Jacob. And things didn’t seem to go quite as well for them – at least for much of the time.
Within one generation, Jacob’s family would face a famine and end up in exile in Egypt. That exile would turn into 400 years of slavery. That would be followed by a miraculous rescue and then 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. When Jacob’s family finally did get its land, it would hold on to it with a very precarious grip. It was the “land of their possession,” but just barely. And the family would lose the land, regain the land, and lose the land again.
Take a look over the fence at Esau’s descendants. The grass really is greener there.
But when we live by the flesh only – as Esau surely did and which we are tempted to do – we will fail to see the hand of God at work in this troubled history of the nation of Israel. God was refining a people for his glory. His people – the descendants of Jacob – were the carriers of the promise that led to the coming of the Messiah. Out of these people of slavery and wandering and squandering came Jesus Christ.
God was at work even in the yard with the patchy grass. You couldn’t always see it clearly sometimes, but he was at work.
We go through difficult times, too. Our church goes through difficult times as well. But even in those, we trust in the promises. As Israel was awaiting its Messiah, so are we awaiting his return. As Israel spent many years sojourning in foreign lands, so we are sojourning in a place that is not our ultimate home (Hebrews 11:13-16). We are still looking for a better country.
And we know God is refining us, too, even as we go through our difficult times. And so we trust in His plan and process. God always is at work among his people, even as we look at the bare spots.