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This past weekend Laura and I celebrated Independence Day with a small group of friends. Over a sumptuous feast of smoked ribs, pulled pork, beans, and slaw, we started talking about—of all things—our lawns. Is that a sign of aging?

Anyhow, it got me to thinking about how easy it is to spot the weeds in a neighbor’s lawn while being blind to the dandelions growing in my own. Thoughts like “Don’t they care about those weeds?” may or may not cross my mind occasionally.

It’s so human of us, isn’t it? To notice a neighbor’s weeds while ignoring our own. It’s one of the weaker tendencies in our nature. We put the magnifying glass on other’s lawn flubs, while giving ourselves a pass regarding our own. We become “experts” on what other people should be doing and stub our toes on what we should be doing ourselves.

Jesus put it this way: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Ouch. Jesus didn’t mince words here. “Take care of your own yard before offering advice to your neighbor about theirs.”

If while reading this you thought, “I know somebody who needs to hear this,” you may have a telephone pole in your own eye. It’s way too easy to become an expert on other people’s flaws, while remaining ignorant of our own.

So . . . how do we flip the script? How do we take care of our own lawn?

Be teachable

If nobody can speak into your life, watch out. Or, if the only people who speak into your life blow sunshine at you, you’re at greater risk for focusing on other people’s lawns while ignoring your own. I’m not suggesting we let everybody speak into our life. That would be chaos. What I am suggesting is we invite a group of safe, competent, truth-telling people into our world. Proverbs puts it bluntly: “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.” How I respond to correction speaks volumes about my level of teachability, and ultimately, to my level of maturity.

Be vulnerable

Ask God to reveal to you what’s really going on in your heart. In Psalm 139 King David pens these words: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” John’s translation: “Lord show me where I need to grow up, and help me to be honest about that.” Vulnerability means no longer pretending we’ve got it all together. Why do we seem unable to admit each of us is flawed in some way?

Be slow to speak or opine on the condition of another person’s “lawn”

Before you tweet, text, type, or open your mouth, ask yourself, why am I so agitated about this person’s “weeds”? The apostle Paul has wisdom for us here: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

Ouch again.

Paul is telling us that we humanoids tend to lash out at others as a protective mechanism that keeps us from having to look at our own shortcomings. We have great capacity to criticize others while at the same time lacking in self-discipline ourselves. Pretty sick, huh? For example, it’s easy to say others are not doing enough to fight social injustice. Question is, what are you doing about it—not what are you saying about it? Talk is cheap. Action is better. What specific actions am I taking to create a better environment? If the answer is nothing, then I need to shut it. And that leads me to the fourth and final item:

Take positive action steps

  • Reach out to families negatively impacted by the COVID virus and/or quarantine. Take them a meal, buy them some groceries, spend time listening to them, put them on your prayer list and then actually pray for them. Show care by your action.
  • Reach out to your friends of color. Don’t have any of those? Then can I encourage you to not say one word publicly about race relationships until you work on that in your own life first. How can you instruct others when you have no experience of your own? Take care of your own lawn first. If you do have friends of color, start a conversation with them. Listen to their stories. Care about their journey. Become a better friend to them. You can’t impact the entire world—but you can impact your sphere of influence.
  • Commit to less texting and posting, and to more face-to-face (or at least ear-to-ear talking). Cowardice hiding under the cover of social media has not created more healthy dialogue. It’s done the exact opposite. It’s fanned hatred instead of bringing healing. I fear we’re becoming more inflamed than we are informed.
  • See those you disagree with as fellow human beings, made in the image of God, with hopes, dreams, and flaws, just like you. God help us see the humanness in each other. We can disagree and still maintain relationship. Extend the same amount of grace you’d like extended to you.

We live in a world that’s increasingly obsessed with what’s wrong in each other’s lawn. Here’s the bottom line:

It takes zero character to criticize others. It takes no skill to point out someone else’s weeds. Any underdeveloped human can do that.

It takes a mature person to look in the mirror first. To take care of their own lawn first. I suspect there’s plenty of work to be done in our own hearts and minds and behavior. Let’s get the plank out of our own eyes before we presume to help our brother or sister get the speck of sawdust out of their eyes.

If we get better at taking care of our own lawn, chances are we won’t find ourselves harshly critical of our neighbor’s lawn, because we’ll realize taking care of your own lawn is hard work. If we get better at taking care of our own lawn, chances are we’ll create safer spaces to open up and communicate with each other. Chances are we’ll become a force for good, for healing, and for reconciliation.

Imagine a neighborhood where each adult took care of their own “lawn” first. Imagine a church where every member looked in the mirror first. Imagine a family where each adult become a better version of themselves first. Imagine a country where each adult learned how to lead themselves first before they presumed to lead others. I suspect we would be healthier, happier, and more representative of the kind of people God has created us to be.

I long for that day.

Rooting and praying for you,

John

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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