My dad and my brother still keep cows on the farm that was once my grandparents’. It’s not like a huge Texas herd or anything, but a couple dozen cows is still kind of a deal to deal with. The cows are forever breaking through the fencing and helping themselves to the grass in the neighboring pasture. Last week, Dad told me that, once again, the cows had broken through, and he would have to go repair it.
I said, “I thought you put barbed wire fencing up to keep them from doing that. Isn’t that the point of the barbs? Doesn’t it hurt them to push through that?”
He answered yes to all of that.
When I said I didn’t get why they didn’t just stay in their own pasture, he told me that they get convinced in their cow brains that whatever is on the other side of that fencing is better than what is on their side, and they are willing to endure whatever pain and agony it takes to push through the fencing to get to it.
Am I about to compare us to cattle? Yes, I am.
Society drives us to comparison. We stand at our spiritual, moral, and ethical fences looking out at what lies beyond that border and convince ourselves that what sits just beyond our reach is exactly what we need. We consider the conditions on our side of the fence, and they seem to pale in comparison. If we stand there long enough, we begin to debate what it would take to push through that fence.
I could push through this. It will hurt a bit, maybe it will hurt a lot, but the reward when I get to the other side will be worth it. I’m thinking that grass over there? That grass is so much greener than the grass over here. I can almost smell its sweetness. I can nearly feel its texture in my mouth. I can’t even bring myself to think about the grass over here. It’s the same boring grass that’s always been over here. There’s no excitement to this grass, no hope for adventure or newness with it. Do I really have to live with this same old grass for the rest of my days? I deserve that better grass over there.
That fence that was put there to protect us begins to feel a lot like a prison. We get itchy, and we get antsy. And then we get tunnel vision, and one day, we make the decision to go for it. Nothing on our side of the fence matters anymore. Not our marriages, not our families, ministries, or our jobs. We lean in, pressing into the fence, gritting our teeth at the pain of it. We could stop. We could. But we have momentum, and if we stop now we might not start again, so we just keep going. The barbs dig into our flesh, we bleed, we cry, but we push and push until we break through, at last running wild and free into the greener pastures we dreamed of for so long back on our side of the fence. We run, frolic, and eat up all the goodness we can on the other side of the fence. We ignore the pain from pushing through the fence. It doesn’t matter.
Only it does matter. In a short while, it matters a lot. We take a furtive glance back at the destruction we caused when we pushed through the fence. We swallow the grass in our mouths and realize as it slides down to the first of our four stomachs, that it’s pretty much like the grass we had over there, only that grass came without a lot of hurt and pain.
We look around with new eyes at the grass on this side of the fence and see the briars and stickers in the grass growing over here. We couldn’t see those from the protection of our fence. There were definite issues back over there, but there seem to be issues over here, too, now. It’s harder over here, and it’s lonely, too.
The odd thing about my dad’s story is, the cows came back home on their own that time. One by one, they came back through the hole in the fence to their own pasture… acting all casual-like, as if they hadn’t caused all that trouble. That’s okay. They are cows.
We are not cows. We cause a lot of pain for ourselves and for those who love us and depend on us when we choose to push through the fencing. Those guardrails are put there for our protection, and for the preservation of those who love and depend on us. Temptation will always call to us from the other side of the fence. It will always tell us that the grass is greener over there… and it will always lie.