After months of searching, Jim and I were ecstatic to find a house to rent. Living in a one-bedroom apartment as newlyweds was romantic, but my shoe collection and his two drum sets were struggling to coexist peacefully in the single closet.
I was excited about new appliances and the original oak floors that match our eclectic furniture. Jim was excited about the lawn.
When we moved in February, we examined the squares of checkered sod that lay in front of the house. They were brown and looked more like debris dropped by a tornado than anything that had the potential to take root and grow.
Our neighbor, Steve, came over to introduce himself. Somewhere between “where’d y’all move from?” and “which trash pickup do you use?”, Jim adopted Steve as his lawn care guru. The next several weeks went like this: Steve put out a sprinkler. Jim went to Lowes to get a sprinkler. Steve fertilized. Jim went to Lowes and spent his Saturday morning spreading fertilizer. Steve mowed and Jim fretted about whether our grass was tall enough to be mowed yet.
It had already exceeded my expectations. The sod had taken root and turned a deep emerald green. The lawn looked like it had been growing for years and not just a few weeks. Our landlord (also a neighbor) was pleased and complimented Jim on the progress. “I’ve been watching Steve!” Jim replied.
“Uh, Steve?” He asked. “Do you know he puts measuring cups under the sprinkler to be sure it’s distributing evenly? No one on this street tries to keep up with him! It’ll just make you crazy! Don’t go down that road!”
I had figured it would be cars or boats or cell phones, but our first temptation to keep up with the Joneses was grass. It had started out innocently — stalking Steve’s fertilizer schedule — but Jim realized that at this point in our lives, he needed to take a slightly less intense approach to lawn care so he could pursue things such as working and sleep.
Six months into the vocation, I’m realizing that a dizzying reality of marriage is the daily encouragement we can offer each other in our pursuit of holiness. I’m also realizing that I now share my distractions, idle pursuits and even bad moods with another. So when I get caught up in the stress of a bad day at work or when my spouse is consumed by the quest for the perfect fertilizer, we’re both affected.
We do admire the hours Steve pours into his picturesque lawn, but we have found ourselves quoting our landlord’s advice frequently. “Don’t go down that road!” It’s advice that is also helpful when we are tempted to compare ourselves with Facebook, reality television, self-help books and even our friends.
When it comes to our souls, the only normal we can be confident of is what we see when we look heavenwards. There are lots of comparisons to distract us, but it’s pursuing the sacraments, prayer and works of mercy that will leave us fulfilled.
ALISON BLANCHET writes her column, Team Catholic, for The Miscellany. She is a youth director in Panama City Beach, Fla.