By Our Correspondent
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:36-40
Jesus was clear. Our main job description while on earth is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet we find it more and more difficult to connect with those around us, especially if they aren’t just like us. We get hung up on the What if”s. What if we say something that offends our neighbor? What if we don’t agree with the way they live? What if we are put on the spot and things get weird? Or uncomfortable? What if they want us to mind our own business? These fears are often grounded in actual experiences, but sometimes we overthink things. Given Jesus’s clear direction in this area, it is our responsibility, and God’s beautiful gifted opportunity, to care for people. But simply seeing someone more often, doesn’t automatically move us from stranger to neighbor, we may need to add some intentional gestures.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves, means treating people as we’d like to be treated. Here are a few reminders of simple ways to connect with your neighbors that will move you further from acquaintance status and closer to fellow sojourner and even friend.
Make your own space welcoming
A garden full of colorful flowers can be a visual gift to the neighborhood. A front porch with comfy seating, invites someone to stay a minute and linger. A welcome mat outside of your apartment does just that, it welcomes. Visual elements of your living space can tell others you want them there too. We are not striving for perfection or maintaining a certain image, but rather conveying the message that you anticipated their arrival and you’re so glad they’re here. And you get to reap the rewards of a beautified space too.
Learn your neighbor’s name (and use it)
Jesus used people’s names. Why? Because it shows familiarity. We are recognizing individual identity, offering respect, and letting our neighbor know they are important to us when we know their name. When Jesus called Zaccheus down from the tree because he wanted to go eat with him at his home, Jesus called him by name. This was a significant detail. Oh this can get awkward though, especially if you’ve lived near a given neighbor a long time. Doubly awkward if they know your name. But it only needs to be uncomfortable once. Apologize, let them their name has slipped from your brain, and then be sure to write it down somewhere when your conversation is over.
Give ten minutes of your time
In an over busy, overly scheduled world, giving someone our undivided attention can be the most precious gift we can offer and it costs us nothing but…time. We can use this stretch by offering practical help (think help carrying a sofa, programming a TV remote, or pulling some weeds), but most likely neighbors want good conversation and a listening ear. Studies show though we are more connected than ever through technology we are also more isolated than ever. Giving each other the gift of face-to-face time fights those trends and shows our neighbors in a tangible way they matter.
Care for their home while they’re on vacation
When the summer months hit people often go out of town. Whether they have pets to feed, plants to water, or newspapers to bring in, knowing someone else is caring for their home will allow your neighbors to relax a little more and enjoy their time away from your community. Don’t wait for them ask, give your offer of help when you hear of a planned trip. People are much willing to say “yes” to a specific offer than a general “let me know when you need something.”
Offer to run errands
This may sound like more than you bargained for (the emphasis was supposed to be on simple, not driving around town.) But the truth is we are often going places our neighbors would like to frequent. The grocery store, post office, pharmacy may be places you’re already going. For the homebound elderly neighbor, or overwhelmed parent, this practical help of offering to pick something up could make all of the difference between a manageable day and a difficult one. Bonus on the relational end if you invite them to go with you.
There is something about eating together that is holy work because it meets both the physical and relational needs of those you are with. Jesus often connected with people at the table because no matter the culture or circumstances, everyone needs to eat! Invite them over for breakfast or run an extra plate of whatever you’re already having across the street when you think your neighbor might appreciate some prepared food. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be popsicles on a hot afternoon, popcorn during a movie night, or a few muffins from your batch. A plate of cookies can be both simple and meaningful.
Share your bounty
When we give out of our overflow we are sharing the abundance of blessings God has provided. You can only eat so many zucchinis when it’s harvest time in your garden. Why not take some to your neighbor to enjoy too? You are going through kids clothes you’re your kids have outgrown last summer’s shorts. Consider who you know that might be growing into that size. You have a basketball hoop in your driveway, a big back yard for people to gather, a pool in your apartment complex, or an extra bedroom?
If you have space your neighbors can use, go ahead and share it with them. From an abundance of things, to an abundance of space or time, remember that every good gift is from God and meant to be used for his purposes.
Loving our neighbors is not optional. It’s the HOW of getting started that can feel overwhelming. It’s time to stop the overthinking and consider how we can love those right around us with simple gestures that can make a world of difference. It’s what we’re made for after all.