In our fast-paced culture, being a good neighbor takes some effort. It’s much easier to pull the car into the garage and hit the “close” button than step out the door and talk. Relationships with people formed by sheer proximity take effort. It’s much less work to invite our real friends over and shut out the people who physically live around us. I confess that I used to really struggle with the good neighbor idea. Sure, I always said “hi” to the guy down the hall in my condo complex and took flowers to an old lady once, but I never had them over for dinner. I didn’t lean in and my friendliness stopped at the threshold of the door. For at least a couple of years, I was an admittedly bad neighbor.
But what if God’s intent for us to be a good neighbor actually brought us the relational abundance we desperately crave? What if friendship, comfort and community were the blessings waiting on the other side of a little effort and relational risk?
What Holds Us Back From Reaching Out?
I’m sure you have your own reasons, but for me, my neighbor light burned out around the time of my divorce. All of a sudden, I started rushing into my home and avoiding people because I didn’t want to explain the details again or cry on anyone’s lawn.
The problem with neighbors is that they “know” things. You can’t hide the proverbial white elephant when he’s pooping on your neighbor’s lawn. In my old neighborhood, everyone knew I got I dumped. It’s not like I could hide my single-mom status. I couldn’t pretend that everything was okay or float through life in a fog of denial because Mrs. Busybody down the street knew I was struggling. So when I moved into a condo, I protected my heart by isolating myself. If no one knew me well, then I didn’t have to have conversations that hurt.
Are We Missing Out On Something Bigger?
A few years later, I married again and started over. My pastor husband and I purchased a home in a neighborhood close to the church we started and I knew it was time to heal my neighbor wound, especially if I wanted anyone to join us on Sundays. In spite of my shyness and fears of looking awkward, I had motivation to put on a friendly face and meet neighbors because we had moved to a new area where I didn’t know anyone. I also knew that shutting people out didn’t make me feel better.
Every day before I stepped out the door to walk the dog or introduce myself and my kids, I prayed for God to bless me with some friends that I could connect with and relate to. I sorely needed companionship. Moving into a brand new community with my relatively new husband while having a baby, three kids, a career and starting a church just didn’t leave a lot of time for fun. So, I specifically prayed that I would find friends that were also convenient in the midst of this mess I call my life. But I also prayed for opportunities to reach out to hurting people. I found old folks who needed assistance, families struggling with health crises and moms just like me drowning in diapers and carpools—and I invited them into a relationship. I also invited them to church and, believe it or not, they came and both my heart and our church grew exponentially.
The Blessing Of Real And Raw Community
Once again, the problem with neighbors is that they know things, so let them know the real you. Only when we are fully known do we feel secure in relationships, so lean into the messy and dysfunctional lives of the people around you and embrace this beautiful chaos.
Six years later, I can confidently say this community is now our home as much as the physical building is. You couldn’t pay me to move away. I have laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned with these neighbors and I am deeply blessed by the friendships that have come in all shapes and sizes. My neighbors know to come to us for help if there’s a crisis or a spiritual need, and I know that I can reach out when I’m struggling and there are many hands that will help me navigate through the stormy waters of life.
I know now the problem with my old neighbors was not them, but me. I closed myself off and missed out on all the blessings of a loving community. But God redeemed my neighbor journey. Sometimes I feel like I am eight years old again, walking across the street to see if Keri can play. I keep my eye out for Stacy ambling down the street with her rambunctious dog, or I look for my fun friend Lindsey who can hear the tinkle of the ice-cream truck a mile away. I never expected God would heal my neighbor wound by restoring the very thing in me that I resented. In addition, He answered my friend prayer with these same neighbors, the ones that come over for just a second and end up staying two hours.
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