I’ve been out from under my parent’s roof for a few years now. Can I share one of the things I miss most about living at home? My neighbors. They are wonderful! My parents did such a great job opening their home and making friends with our neighbors. I grew up knocking on their doors for a cup of sugar or an egg on a regular basis. Most of the money I made in high school was from babysitting the neighborhood kids. I still remember the heartbreaking news when my Mom told me that our next-door neighbor, MaryAnn, passed away from breast cancer. She was like a grandmother to us. I consider many of my neighbors extended family!
Without even realizing it my parents lived like Jesus told us to in Matthew 22:39. Here Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This was not a suggestion, it was a command. And it is still a command today. Living thousands of miles away from home, I can no longer depend on the relationships my parents built. I have to be intentional to build relationships with my own neighbors.
While Jesus used “neighbors” in a much broader sense, I want to focus on our actual neighbors. I’ve been thinking about practical ways to love those around me and would like to share a few of them. Please know that I write this from a place of learning as it’s something I presently struggle with.
I live in this sweet neighborhood in San Antonio. So sweet, we even have a “Bunnies Crossing” sign at the entrance of our street…it’s precious. What’s not precious are the horrendous speed bumps on our street. It feels like the bottom of your car is going to fall out every time you go over one. While they may be little, the rage that comes out of me as I drive over them at .2 miles is not. I was headed to dinner with one of my roommates when she shared how the speed bumps made her angry too. She decided to do something about it and instead of getting angry, she began praying for our neighbors as she went over every single atrocious bump. I love this idea! Something I have to deal with everyday now becomes an opportunity to love those around me.
One of the best ways we can love people is to pray for them. We need to be in prayer for open doors and opportunities to share God’s love with those around us. If we are going to be a light in our little corner of the world, then the best way to light a spark is through prayer. Whether that means praying for those in your dorm or down your block during your quiet time or going on prayer walks around your neighborhood, ask God to bring revival to your streets or campus. Ask Him for boldness to make steps towards the people around you.
2. Be Intentional
Loving your neighbors will not happen by accident in this day and age. We must be intentional as followers of Christ to seek people out and find ways to engage in their day-to-day activities. It means actually stopping to talk to our neighbors and actually talking to them. I know this is a stretch for most of us. I’m not saying every conversation needs to be a spiritual one but at least an intentional one. Stop to say “hello.” Ask questions that invoke more than a yes or no reply. Asking a neighbor how they are doing will usually garner a “Good and you?” response. Try asking what they did that day or if they have any fun weekend plans. Ask them if they’ve seen a great movie or if they’ve read any good books lately. Get to know your neighbors just like you would get to know a new co-worker or sorority sister. By taking the time to intentionally see and speak to our neighbors, we will open up doors for genuine relationships in the future.
3. Slow Down
We are all so busy, but can we just take a collective deep breath and slow down please? If I’m always seen zooming in and out of my neighborhood, always on the phone when I get in and out of my car, I wouldn’t be very approachable, would I? One of my personal goals is to slow down and be present. Why don’t you join me in this? Let’s try putting the phone away and slowing down as we drive by to give a friendly wave to our neighbors.
There’s an eighty-year-old man who is always working on his yard…no blade of grass goes untouched. (If only he would come work his magic on our dead lawn…) When I come home from work, I usually find him sitting in his lawn chair admiring his perfect lawn. You better believe he is getting a big friendly wave from this girl! Let’s use the small opportunities when we are going about our normal routine to show the love of Jesus. Smile. Wave. We can do it!
4. Invite others into your normal, every day routine
Some of the best advice I ever received about living intentionally was from my mentor in college, Kitty. (PS. She has a killer blog, check it out here!) I had just become a Christian and I wanted to maintain my close friendships with the desire not to do some of the things I’d done before. She said, “Everyone goes to the grocery store or works out or goes to Target. Take them with you.” The same idea goes for your neighbors. While you may not be inclined to take someone you hardly know to Target with you, ask your neighbor if there’s anything you could pick up for them. Also, most people enjoy working out more if they have someone to do it with.
This will probably look a little different depending on your stage of life. If you’re in college, invite someone on your hall to go and grab a meal with you. If you live in an apartment, gather some of your neighbors and cookout at the pool together. If you’re married with kids, invite your neighbor’s kids to come and play.
Loving your neighbor doesn’t have to be an extravagant dinner party for the new family that moved in across the street…start with an invitation to go on a walk together!
5. Food and/or dogs are always good ideas
Speaking of the new family that moved in across the street, bring them food! Even if you don’t have time to make a home cooked meal, frozen lasagna and freshly baked brownies (obviously from our friend Ghirardelli) speaks wonders. And if you happen to have a midnight craving for chocolate chip cookies, make a double batch and drop them off at a neighbor’s house with a sweet note on it.
And dogs…I think dogs are the world’s easiest way to initiate conversation as you walk them around your neighborhood. I grew up with a beautiful Bouvier, Smudges, and I also gifted my family with a precious mystery puppy,Velcro. Both of my dogs are very unique looking so naturally people stop and want to inquire about these lovely pups. I can’t tell you the number of fun conversations I’ve had with my neighbors because I decided to take the dogs out for a walk! Dogs are fantastic for conversation starters. Use them to your advantage. Woof woof!
Loving our neighbor shouldn’t be as hard as we make it. I don’t want to miss out on the incredible ministry opportunities that are right outside my doorstep because I am too consumed in my busy, important world to stop and have a conversation with a neighbor. It is my prayer that I would obey Jesus’ command to love my neighbor as myself. We live with the most incredible gift inside of us and it should be our chief joy to share that gift with those around us!
We would love to hear about how you practically love your neighbors!
In humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
Blake Snyder, Outreach Coordinator