|Photo – Charlie Riedel – AP
As I scrolled through some photos of Houston in recent days, I could not look for long because the photos are just heart-wrenching and overwhelming. Yes, the devastation is immense but the photos that really take all my emotions are those of people helping people. People helping strangers. People putting their own agenda on hold simply to help meet the need of someone else – no doubt, without expecting anything in return. I’m sure not every one of those helping so sacrificially is a Christian, but whether they know or not, they are a vivid picture of the Bible’s command to love our neighbor.
I’m sure I am like most when I say I wish there was more that I could do. I can give. I can certainly pray. But I will most likely never be in Houston. Never be able to open my home, make or deliver a meal, offer my help in cleaning out someone’s home, or comfort a child. I cannot be a neighbor in Houston. But I do have neighbor’s right here on my own street.
When the opportunity to reach out is not so obvious or urgent, loving our neighbor can easily get pushed down on our priority list and can sometimes even be difficult. Some simply do not appreciate our attempts to love them. Others would love to have the friendship of a neighbor but, for a variety of reasons, can’t seem to make the connection themselves. They are just waiting. Today, I thought I would list just a few ways to start thinking about loving our neighbors. These ideas are just wheel-turners. I would love to hear your ideas and practical applications for being a neighbor that loves as Jesus would.
One: gifts. This one seems the most obvious but is certainly not as commonplace as it was just a generation ago. A warm loaf of banana bread. A jar of homemade applesauce. Cookies or a yummy pumpkin roll around the holidays. Any of these are not only easy to make but would be a welcome gift when the neighbor hears the doorbell. Gifts around special days are easy to deliver but don’t overlook “just because” gifts on a random Tuesday:) These really express that you care about your neighbor.
Two: children. People love their children – even the most private neighbors. Some neighbors will take you up on the offer to watch the kids for an afternoon, but not all. But showing an interest in someone’s children and what they enjoy – the start of school, the big soccer tournament, football tryouts, all that lovely violin practicing – is a chance to connect with those around you…even if you do not still have children at home. Attending a neighborhood high school football game can be a lot of fun – whether you have a child on the field or not. And be patient with others’ children. They can play loud, cut through your yard or leave their bikes in your path, but if you are constantly aggravated or criticizing their children, don’t expect the neighbor to welcome you (with or without banana bread) with open arms.
Three: show interest. Often we think there is nothing in common, other than a street address, between us and our neighbor, and that may be true. But, look for what interests your neighbor and then show your own interest. Our neighbor has the nicest yard and flower beds on the whole street. They enjoy working in the yard – and they do it well. I know who to ask about fertilizer, annuals that like shade or even the color for repainting the mailbox. These all open discussion. Does your neighbor love to golf…have three border collies….or collect old cars (or car parts?!?) It might mean nothing to you but these interests can be a way to easily approach and connect with your neighbor – even when you have absolutely nothing in common.
Four: be available. With busy lives and the feeling of pressure to stay on schedule, often we simply miss opportunities to not only be a neighbor but to simply connect with our neighbor. All of the interaction we have with our neighbors is outside. Often on our front porch. We sit on our porch almost every evening. We try to have a presence with those on our street. If the neighbors do come over, we cannot be itching and eager to get back to our schedule. We need to have time. This isn’t always practical but if we are never “out there” – those visits will never happen. For us and our neighborhood, the front porch has been one of the easiest, non-threatening – and enjoyable! – ways to connect with our neighbors. And, hopefully, as we create relationships, we also create a chance to show Jesus with those on our street.