When I get old, I’m going to sit on my front porch and yell at the neighborhood kids when their ball rolls into my yard. Kids, with their dirty fingers and sticky faces, and no sense of healthy boundaries. I was one of those kids. I ran wherever I wanted, usually disobeying specific signs that told me to stay off the grass, walk instead of run, or not to touch breakable items. I’ve since grown out of this habit (mostly), but it manifests in different ways as we get older. We are all guilty of ignoring notices that give us instruction, especially when it causes some inconvenience to us. We are more important, after all. We shouldn’t have to use the crosswalk one block up because it’s too far. We shouldn’t have to eat like civilized people when in a restaurant because they pay people to clean up after us. We should be able to walk on the lawn if we want to – after all, it’s just grass. Usually, healthy grass can withstand this abuse. But we don’t always have the healthiest of lawns.
Sometimes we’re fragile, freshly laid sod, susceptible to both parasites and heavy rain.
Sometimes we’re brittle and slightly brown from drought, easily fractured by stomping feet.
Sometimes we’re choked up with weeds that block our ability to see the sun.
Life comes to stomp on our lawn no matter how healthy our grass is. People say careless things and step on our feelings. They might trip on something and fall on us, expecting a cushy landing. They might intentionally hurt us, trampling on our spirit. They might (metaphorically) let their dog poop on us, and not even bother to clean it up! “They should know better!” we grumble. “Didn’t they see our sign?”
Our beautifully crafted “Keep Off the Grass!” sign, designed to keep us safe. We want our lawn to be pristine and beautiful, a testament to how perfect our lives are on the surface. If someone walks in our yard, they might notice the weeds, or that our grass is unhealthy, or that it’s sparse and hard instead of that lush green blanket we want people to think we have.
Grass is so common most people don’t give it a second thought. It is, however, one of the most resilient forms of vegetation. After a forest fire, the grass comes back first. In rocky and dry areas tufts of grass poke up from the earth, perhaps the only green for acres. In Psalm 23 we read”He makes us lie down in green pastures” and we think of fields of sweet grass and flowers with a calm stream trickling by for refreshment. This is an interpretation of that verse that fits our modern understanding of abundance. In reality, much of Israel is a rocky desert. There is not a large number of lush meadows, and the psalmist would not have had access to them. The ancient Israelites were a mountain people, scraping out an existence among the rocks and hills of Judea. A shepherd’s job was to lead the sheep through the dry and scraggly land, finding the hardy tufts of grass for them to feed on. They usually had to cover a lot of land in search of these “green” areas. Grazing a herd of sheep was not an easy job and it constantly required movement. The pasture, no matter how green (usually not very) would be soon be depleted and the herd would plod on again, guided by their shepherd.
Daily the shepherd found food for his sheep. Daily he provided what they would need to survive. It’s hard for us when someone tramples our lawn, when we see a brown spot in the green, or we feel brittle and damaged from the weather. It’s hard for us to trust that our Shepherd will provide when all around us we only see rocky desert. In times like these we mumble halfheartedly “Give me this day my daily bread,” wishing all the while for a feast and leftovers to freeze for tomorrow. We want security in things we can touch and see, security in signs that tell the world to leave us alone and stay out of our business. We want proof that there will be food where we’re going, and we certainly don’t want to walk a long ways to get there.
Yet we forget the first line of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack for nothing” (NLT). Nothing? That seems a bit far fetched. We feel a lack when people say or do careless and hurtful things to us. We feel a lack when people violate our boundaries and dump emotional problems on us without asking. We feel a lack when we’re tired, stressed out, and doing too much. We feel a lack when we neglect our relationship with God and attempt to fill that hole with other things. The Shepherd knows this. So we come back to that line in Psalm 23 with new understanding – “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” The pastures where the ground is not so green, and the lying down not so comfortable. The pastures just for today, because tomorrow he will lead us in a new direction, towards tomorrow’s daily bread. The Shepherd makes us lie down because on our own we would keep going. We’d keep wearing ourselves out, putting up signs, protecting our lawn. It’s not our job to do these things – it’s the Shepherd’s. The Shepherd keeps us safe, gives us food and rest, and shows us the paths to take. All we have to do is follow.