What if the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past two thousand years? When Jesus was asked to reduce everything in the Bible into one command he said:
Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door.
The problem is that we have turned this simple idea into a nice saying. We put it on bumper stickers and T-shirts and go on with our lives without actually putting it into practice.
But the fact is, Jesus has given us a practical plan that we can actually put into practice, a plan that has the potential to change the world. The reality is, though, that the majority of Christians don’t even know the names of most of their neighbors.
We know that getting to know your neighbors can sometimes be intimidating. If you’re like us, when you watch the news you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. There are endless stories of child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, teen pregnancy, out-of-control debt, and a laundry list of other issues. Not only does it make you want to turn the channel and escape, but it also makes you wary of strangers, even the ones that live on your block.
We know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. This isn’t what Jesus envisioned for us and for our world. We know we can do more. And we know that we can’t just sit around waiting for someone else to do it. But it’s hard to know where to start. Right?
Start by looking around your own neighborhood. What problems do you see? The yard across the street is full of knee-high weeds. You know the husband just got laid off from work. Should you call code enforcement? Maybe the local government will be the one to help. Next door there are teenagers, and the smell of pot seeps out the windows on a nightly basis. You wonder if you should call the police. That will take care of the problem.
There’s a family a couple of doors down with several children. It’s clear that none of them speak English very well, and you wonder if the kids are even in school. Should you contact someone in the school district? Surely they are equipped to handle this sort of problem. Aren’t they?
These problems aren’t hypothetical; they likely exist just outside your front door. We can always hope that somebody else will handle them. But what if we could be part of the solution? And what if the solution is more attainable than we think? What if it all starts with getting to know the invisible neighbors that surround us?
Have you ever wondered about the invisible family that lives in your neighborhood? You’ve never actually met them but you know they exist because you’ve glimpsed signs of life around their house. There’s the dad. You know him by the sedan he drives. When his garage door opens at 7:30 each morning, he’s already inside his car. The motor starts. He backs out of the driveway and takes off down the street. Each evening he zooms straight into the garage again. The garage door opens and then shuts, and he’s inside the house without a trace. Then there’s the mom. All you’ve glimpsed of her recently is her minivan. She zips their kids around to a mass of activities, probably going to soccer, karate, violin lessons, and playdates. You know about these activities mostly because of the different uniforms that the kids are wearing as they pile into the car. The stick-figure decal on the window is also helpful, a kind of suburban map legend on the rear window that tells the neighbors how many kids the family has and what they like to do. Their kids always seem to hang out in the backseat. You can’t really see much of them because the windows are tinted. But you can see the glow of the dual DVD players as the van passes, so you know they’re in there.
And what about the three middle-aged adults who live in the house on the corner? What’s their relationship, and why do they share the same house? And who lives across the street? There never seem to be any grown-ups around—only teenagers coming and going at all hours and playing their music really loudly. And why do the folks catty-corner leave their garbage cans by the curb for days? Do they travel a lot?
It’s so easy to draw negative conclusions about the neighbors we’ve only glimpsed. An unkempt yard, a slew of tattoos, a weird haircut, or loud music. It can all cause us to make assumptions about the people who live around us. But it’s these very assumptions that keep us from befriending them.
What if things could be different, though? What if we took the time to get to know the people next to us and discovered that they aren’t so menacing after all? Perhaps we’d find that the people on our block are normal people just like us. They go to work, hang out with their kids, and put their pants on one leg at a time. At the end of the day, they long for a place to belong, a place to be accepted and cared for. They want to do something significant with their lives, something that really matters.
What good things might happen if you truly got to know the people in your neighborhood and they got to know you?
Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring
Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012. Used by permission.