Jesus says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12)
This is a simple but challenging command because people are often so hard to love, especially our neighbors! It is only by God’s grace we can choose to live and act accordingly. My neighborhood story has taught me to not overlook the mission field nearest to me, to use my “Jesus lenses” and have eyes to really see people. Everyone has a story. Give grace because you never know what people are going through.
I have always felt that something in our neighborhood just felt “off.” I grew up observing my parents helping neighbors with a variety of different chores and tasks. They made it look so easy and it seemed so normal. I wondered what we were doing wrong that a Christian family like ours didn’t have perfect relationships with our neighbors. People on our street chose to isolate to their homes and we allowed them to retreat. Sometimes people waved, other times it was offensive to me that my own neighbors wouldn’t wave as I passed. There was not much of a community, and I felt God nudging me at times to try harder to show an interest in the people that lived the closest to us.
I truly believe that the Holy Spirit guides us with gentle prodding. I have heard these whispers and did not respond in obedience because of fear, doubts or insecurity. I became resigned that this was just how the six houses on our street would operate. It would be challenging to try to connect.
When our congregation was challenged to pray for three people daily for a month, the first person that came to mind was our neighbor Chris. Chris is the neighborhood grump and he lives alone. Often times we don’t see him outside for days except for recently when he initiated a fresh placement of privacy trees around his yard. He refused homemade Christmas cookies because he didn’t want anything around to remind him of the holidays. He has repeatedly yelled at our guests and our kids to get off his lawn. I decided to pray for Chris and for our neighborhood in a general way. It has been really difficult to love Chris and our neighbors with the divine love that Jesus commands. Divine love is based on the state of our heart, not on feelings leftover from past hurtful experiences. I have learned that my perspective on these neighbors, who God placed here, was self-centered. They were not making me feel included. What kind of person won’t wave to friendly little me? How dare he yell at my kids to get off his lawn? Do those people ever leave their house? Why is their lawn so overgrown and unkempt? Who does that?
Christine Caine, evangelist, says “Lower your expectations and stop trying to change people, because only God can.”
Last summer a new family moved into our neighborhood. I brought the obligatory cookies over to introduce myself. Much to my surprise, this mom was determined to make her new neighborhood into a connected community—idealistic in my opinion. She was so excited about the popcorn machine that she bought because she was going to plan a neighborhood movie night. I told Steve that she would be lucky if anyone showed up. But deep down, I was longing for this community and this change of culture on our street. This woman showed me what it was like to be fearless and really love others. Living in community and living out our faith wasn’t meant to be so complicated. I realized that in a way, we were just pretending to love these neighbors.
Romans 12:9-10 says, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”
Remember the neighbor that wouldn’t wave? I thank God that it was revealed to me that her daughter was at the hospital recovering from a bone marrow transplant. She was in the hospital for 50 days over the holidays. This mom was tired and hurting and struggling mentally to get through each day wondering if her daughter would survive. My heart was heavy for them and I was upset that we lived so close and had no idea of the journey they were on. Once I knew their struggles, it was still scary. What if she rejected my overtures of kindness? I took them an encouragement card and gift cards for meals to use during their hospital stay. This mom was very grateful and open and there had been no reason to be hesitant.
When I prayed for a change in our neighborhood, God sent us an unlikely woman with dyed neon blue hair. She has been constant in her desire to live in an inviting community. As a result of her determination, I have been blessed to grow deeper with the women in our neighborhood. First at the movie night, and then at the Christmas cookie exchange. Next up, a blue gill fish fry. Maybe, just maybe, Chris will show up….
“A generous person will prosper: the person who refreshes others will themselves be refreshed”(Proverbs 11:23)
Here Goes Nothing: An Introvert's Reckless Attempt to Love Her Neighbor by Kendra Broekhuis
The Turquoise Table: Kristin Schell She is on a mission to love her neighbors. She put a picnic table in her front yard, painted it turquoise, and began inviting neighbors, friends, and even strangers, to hang out and do life together at The Turquoise Table.