The Task of Neighboring

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I’m a task driven person. I like ‘to do’ lists. I like checking things of my ‘to do’ lists. I sometimes add things to the lists so I can have the pleasure of literally checking them off. Because tasks are usually straightforward, I find them to be generally easy. You have a task, you work hard, you finish the task and then you get to check it off. The task is done and then you move on to the next one. 

People, however, are much different from tasks. People are complex. They can sometimes be complicated, needy and intricate. They require attention, relationship, and time. So how does a task person like myself prioritize the people around me? I kind of hate to admit it, but sometimes I think of people as tasks. I put them on a list, make a goal of relationship and am slowly checking them off as they turn from people into friends, and alter from tasks into life. This has been something I’ve been pursuing particularly with those who live nearby, my neighbors. 

I live in a very kid concentrated neighborhood where my kid's classmates are my neighbors. As a result of my oldest daughter entering the corner elementary school three years ago, I’ve been launched out into the neighborhood more and more. Walking her to school, greeting parents at pick-up, attending book fairs, volunteering at the school and of course SO MANY birthday parties!! These events can sometimes feel a bit obligatory. Rather than avoid or dread them, I’ve been trying to embrace this stage and use these occasions as opportunities to work on my people list.

Because I prefer lists to paragraphs, here is a little list of ideas I’ve found in my task of loving my neighbor.

  1. The purpose must be obedience. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:39; Galatians 5:14). We’re created and intended to love. If your motivation for loving your neighbor is obedience, there won’t be room for disappointment if your method of love isn’t reciprocated. Your neighbors may not love you back, at first or possibly ever and you have to be ok with that. Whether they wave back, say thank you or return the favor is irrelevant. The command still stands. Love your neighbor because He directs us to, not because you want to be a good person.
  2. Pray for your neighbors. Pray they’ll be healthy, happy and open. Pray that God softens their heart toward you and ultimately toward Him. Pray for God to soften your heart too. Pray for opportunities to help, serve and love them.
  3. Don’t miss an opportunity. Once your eyes and heart are open to trying to love your neighbor, you’ll be surprised at all the ways you can show love. Try to intentionally interact with them. Drop off Valentine treats, host an Easter egg hunt, grill all summer long, fire pit throughout autumn, trick or treat at their house, walk instead of drive when possible. It’s a little crazy to consider during an arctic blast but, get outside! If you’re waiting for them to come to you, you may be waiting forever. Go scrape their windshield, shovel their walkway, or bring up their trash can for them. There is no shortage of ways to show love. Google it. Seriously, “how to show love to your neighbor”, about 8,970,000 results.
  4. Don’t be too busy for them. Make time to love your neighbors. Leave margin in your schedule for the people who live closest to you. This can sometimes be the hardest part. Even harder than walking up to a strangers door to deliver goodies, is creating time in your ever busy life for someone you may barely know. For me, this isn’t about trying to be a people pleaser and always saying yes. It’s out of my obedience to His command that I make myself available to my neighbors as much as I can. There are things and events I say no to, sometimes even church events (Gasp!). This makes it possible for me to say “yes” to my neighbors. Most recently, neighbors have asked….“Can you walk my child home from school?” YES! “Do you have a yard tool I can borrow?” YES! “Do you know of any area preschools” YES! “Would you like to attend my event?” YES! There are many ways to show love. My best way in my current life stage as a stay at home mom of 3, is by saying yes and giving my neighbors a little bit of my time. If they're willing to ask, I’ll say yes as much as I can.

During the winter of 2009 while living in MD, my husband and I experienced a huge snow storm. The kind where it snowed heavy for two straight days, which resulted in us waiting nearly a week before seeing a plow truck. We had lived there maybe a year. He was in the Air Force, and I worked at our church. We loved our church. We had great friends there and it basically was our only social circle. We were so preoccupied with church services, planning meetings, special events, small group gatherings that we had no time for our neighbors. And this was pre-kid life! That snow storm forced us outside to shovel out our cars and our street, with our neighbors. Turns out, the people across the street were also a young married Air Force couple, that we had never met. They moved away just a few months later. Even though I may have felt like we didn’t really “need” more friends at the time, I sometimes wonder if they may have needed us. What a total missed opportunity!!

It’s a new year, which means 365 new days and 365 new chances to reach out to your neighbor. Whether you’re new to your street or have been there for some time, most people, even strangers, are at least somewhat open to their neighbor. Aren’t you? Wouldn’t you love for your neighbor to randomly knock on your door and offer kindness? If you’ve been hurt by a neighbor, pray for God to heal that wound and try again. If you’ve hurt a neighbor, ask for forgiveness and move forward. 

At this point, neighbor encounters have become unavoidable for me. My neighbors are everywhere I go, that’s due mostly to motherhood. As moms, like it or not, we are pushed out the doors of our comfort zones. Embrace the strangers around you. If you’re a mom and they’re a mom, you have an instant connection and immediate commonalities. Start there and see where it takes you. 

My neighbors are no longer tasks, they are my life. And I haven’t checked them off my list, because I’m not finished yet. I’m so humbled that God has placed me at my current address and chosen me to show love to my neighbors.