There is a phenomenon that is rarely discussed (but well known) when you live in the burbs, the zero lot line… small yard, everyone is super close to each other neighborhoods. This is phenomenon is called the “Mowed Lawn Phenomenon”. Many are impacted by it’s domino effect.
It starts simply, OCD neighbor mows his lawn as he does every Saturday at 8am. His neighbor notices that OCD man is out there mowing as usual, and sees his nice and tidy yard. Within a short amount of time, the neighbor also realizes that his lawn needs to be mowed as well. By the end of the day, the lawn is mowed. Mr. Works on Saturday comes home after a long day and sees the mowed lawns next to him. He realizes it is also time to mow his own lawn, as it is looking pretty shabby. On Sunday, after church, he mows his lawn. This continues until the whole neighborhood has collectively mowed their lawn.
Until OCD neighbor mowed his lawn, no one realized how shabby their lawn looked. In fact, even Mr. OCD may not have realized his lawn was shabby either. He was mowing because that is part of his Saturday routine, whether the lawn needs it or not. But certainly after mowing, Mr. OCD had a measure of satisfaction in how his yard now looked in comparison to his neighbors.
What I have begun to realize is that this is more than just a phenomenon related to mowed yards. It’s really Beautification Proximation. When a neighbor gets a new mailbox, suddenly we think “Hey, we probably need one too”. Someone in the neighborhood starts a landscaping project? By the next week the everyone in the neighborhood made a trip to Lowes. Paint your house? Let the painting parties begin.
My husband and I decided to paint our house this summer. By my husband and I, I actually mean my husband… and I blame Dave Ramsey because my husband was holding out for a sale on the paint. And of course, who paints during the SUMMER in Florida???? Which means paint was on sale trying to talk people into this nonsense. But, I digress.
We decided to replace the lawn chairs that were in rough shape with some newer ones that fit the house theme better. Our old ones went to the curb, we knew in less than 24 hours they would be picked up. To my surprise a neighbor knocked on our door to ask about the chairs before just taking them. He complimented us on how the house was coming together. I thanked him. He then pointed out that now his wife wants to paint their house. I apologized. We laughed a moment, and as I walked into the house I shouted to my husband…
“I told you it would happen….”
He replied, “What? Someone already picked up the chairs?”
“Well, yes. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I told you that as soon as we were done painting the house… the neighbors would start.”
I saw it coming. I knew that a fresh coat of paint was inspiring and motivating… just like new plants in the garden, cutting down old dying trees, and a freshly mowed lawn. It is the nature of “Beautification Proximation”.
Which basically means when we are near something beautiful, we desire to be beautiful. When we are near something beautiful, new, repaired, or well conditioned… we are more apt to notice our own flaws, chipping paint, and overgrown gardens. When we see others working hard to make something more beautiful, we are motivated to work hard too. Which is why we are more committed to going to the gym when we have a friend to go with. It’s why I painted a house in July… because my husband was out there working hard.
“Beautification Proximation” also shows up when we see something or someone change, and we too desire that change. A sick person gets healthy, and we want to know how they did it… so that we can be healthy too. A woman with a hard heart comes to Jesus, and those around her see that change in her… and they want that change for themselves. When a neighborhood that has been neglected decides to hit the streets cleaning up trash, painting buildings, replacing broken signs, and fixing potholes in the street; we call it a “Neighborhood Beautification Project”. This project on a main street is meant to inspire the surrounding streets and neighborhoods to do the same.
There is another “Beautification Proximation” that happens when we surround ourselves with people who are different than us. People who have different life experiences, different backgrounds, different history, different trials and tribulations, different colors of skin, and their day to day lives are full of different interactions than our own. The more we surround ourselves with the beauty in these differences, the more we change inside. We see their beauty, created in the image of God. We see the unfair treatment and injustice they face, despite being created in the image of God. We can no longer cast our eyes aside and justify what happens in the world. Instead, we are motivated to change.
When we recognize the beauty of others who are different than ourselves, when we see the trials they overcome, the smiles they wear in spite of fear/worry/anxiety… we want to be part of that beauty. We begin to see the tatteredness of our own ways. We become more aware of our careless words, privilege, and attitudes that are not honoring our brothers and sisters, WHO WERE MADE IN HIS IMAGE. We begin a beautification project in our very soul, because of the proximation we are to beauty around us… because beauty comes from ashes too, when we rise up together and say NO MORE.
Beauty comes from having a heart that loves the Lord.. and to love the Lord, is to love His Word.. .and his Word tells us that we are to love one another.
Lord, create in me a clean heart Lord. Give me the eyes to see your creation, in all of it’s glory, as you do. So that in all things I see, I know that it is very good. Give me a voice that speaks against anything that brings harm to your creation, and those whom you have created in your image. Give me hands to help, feet to walk, eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart the loves. Amen.