I'm curious to find out how many people like myself have come to the startling conclusion that they were no different than anyone else when it comes to the tendency of having limited interaction with their neighbors. Although I do know a few of my immediate neighbors, I can honestly say that I probably have walked by many of them in the grocery store without realizing that we live in the same neighborhood. Granted my neighborhood is fairly large and with the addition of new homes, getting bigger everyday. But I'm talking about people that live on my block or immediately surrounding...nope, I still wouldn't know them in the market.
This matter came to my attention a few weeks ago when my next door neighbor was having work done on his back patio...it was turning out fabulously and I wanted to tell him, except he is the very same neighbor that has frequent parties that last very late (keep in mind that I like lights out by 11:00pm most of the time.) His guests have constantly parked too close to our driveway often making it hard to pull in front of our own home while they sit outside and laugh (or cackle after a few drinks have been administered) when most of us are trying to sleep.
I had become increasingly frustrated with this young man as I couldn't figure out why he would have mid-week parties that seemed to disturb my delicate sleep schedule and my children on a school night. Needless to say speaking was not my biggest concern when it came to him. But as time went on I started to feel convicted whenever I drove past him on the way in or out of the neighborhood. Or those awkward moments when we were both in the driveway or going for the mail at the same time and no eye contact or pleasantries were exchanged.
I don't think this would have bothered me a few years ago...it didn't really and I'll tell you why. Up until recently I have been active in a fairly large local church and 98% of my friendships/acquaintances came from that church. I attended church events all the time with large amounts of people so socializing wasn't a big concern for me. If I wanted to talk I could talk to other church members and I didn't have to worry about being social in my neighborhood because I knew more than enough people...at church. I could get in my car, drive to church for whatever event and come home get out of my car and shut the door to my house behind me. No need to talk to people who did not share my beliefs or values, I had church friends for that.
That was then, things are a bit different now and life for me has gotten a whole lot more interesting (no offense...really.) While I still know many of the people that I attended church with, I no longer attend one of the largest churches in our area.I have given great thought and prayer to all of my busyness and involvement with “ministry” and I could no longer identify the authentic me that I needed to be or the authentic gifting that I am called to walk in. I was lost in a great big ministry and I didn't recognize myself and I was not happy.
After quite a few years I knew that something had to change...
While I have been on sabbatical (my very own wilderness experience) I have noticed all the behaviors that I have accumulated over the past twenty years as a result of being in the church. The most obvious thing that stood out to me was how easily I judged non-Christians or non church goers in the past. There can be a major assumption that if a person doesn't belong to a local “assembly” or doesn't attend services on a regular basis, that they are not really Christians...wrong. And then there is the “closed door policy”. Because I didn't have to deal with talking to someone for long if they weren't in my “circle” it was easy to be cordial and offer some Christian insight but that was the extent of my dealings. I never had to see us through their eyes before...but now I do and boy it's not always pretty.
There are many things that I can explain about my previous statement, like the interesting lingo that we well meaning Christians speak that no one else can understand or the way we say “I'll pray for you” when we hear someone's unfortunate situation but we don't listen long enough to them to let them just talk it out because they need a hearing ear. (I know I'm generalizing here so please don't get offended if this does not pertain to you. Not all Christians have these behaviors but I sure did.) But since I started off talking about neighbors then I'll stick with this.
I am learning that it is far better to be friendly and display the love of Christ than to always invite my neighbor to church or a home bible study or a women's meeting etc... Why would you follow a complete stranger anywhere anyway? I mean sure you know I live in the neighborhood but so what? No bond has been formed. Why start with an invitation without getting to know someone first? As a lover of Christ, I feel that I have lost His example when it comes to relating to others outside “the four walls” and I need Him to help me in this journey.
In the old days when there were no hospitals and maybe one doctor for an entire community or village, women often learned the way of the apothecary and how to deliver babies in order to help their neighbors and through those experiences, a bond was formed that could last a lifetime. They became trusted and loved, not to mention needed when sickness struck the home or a mother needed a midwife when the time of birthing came. Older wise women would be revered in the village and respected by the younger women. There was no place else to go but to each other for what they needed.
We are no longer a society of close knit neighbors and we no longer represent the earlier church in Acts by the way we do ministry now, but we can...I can try to do my part, the part I believe that God is calling me to do when it comes to being a better neighbor. I can show the love of Christ ALL of time, not just on Holidays. I can walk through my neighborhood and chat with people that I don't know and get to know them or even put some food on the grill and invite them over. I can extend kindness beyond four walls and treat people with respect despite their beliefs. In doing that, I'm representing a God who is all loving and welcoming as opposed to one that is locked in a building and can only be visited on Sunday mornings. The example of Christ is often more powerful than a sermon on Christ.
I don't know where my journey will end outside these four walls but I sure like what is happening to me in the process and I think my neighbors will appreciate the God that I serve more than they did before...
By the way, I pushed passed my previous grievances and I told my neighbor that his patio looked great that day and when I did, he just opened right up and started talking with me with so much energy and enthusiasm that I knew at that moment even with his “Vote Against Amendment One” sign in his yard, nothing else mattered. I would become the neighbor that he would go to if he ever needed anything...including prayer. And maybe, just maybe He would see Christ in me...
Bonita Jones Knott