But their dog — their little crackie that never stopped barking. Never. Stopped. If my neighbor’s dog was in the backyard, he was yipping and yapping. I’d unwittingly walk toward my barbecue with a plate of steaks balanced precariously in my arms with the cutlery, steak spice, oil, my e-reader for entertainment, my cell phone for timing the meat, and I’d nearly lose the whole load on the bricks when he attacked verbally from the other side of the fence.
As a teacher, I like to spend my summer in the sun, which, when I lived in my last home, involved many hours lounging in my backyard by the pool. But that dog made it difficult to enjoy. Running over it accidentally while backing out of my driveway had been a recurring dream (I mean nightmare?) of mine.
Did my attitude towards their dog impact my relationship with our neighbors? Absolutely.
I didn’t go out of my way to be mean. I didn’t throw drowned mice from my pool over the fence or leave rat poison around the edges of our property. But I never had a real conversation with them either. The longest sustained conversation sounded like this:
“Could you please trim the vines instead of pulling them out of the ground?” (Vines were inexplicably disappearing from my side of the fence like a cartoon rabbit was pulling them underground.)
The disembodied voice came through the fence slats: “Oh, I’m trimming them.”
“Please do. I’d rather they weren’t destroyed.” My words were spoken in a genial tone, and I was mannerly. I said ‘please’ twice.
But she lied. The pile of dead vines at the curb on garbage collection day bore witness to her untruths. So, add destruction of vines to the noise pollution. Did I mention how the mister would park his big truck in a way that took up the whole curb and prevented our boys from parking their car in front of our house? How he didn’t seem to know when his tires were parked on our grass instead of the pavement-side of the curb?
I admit we didn’t invite them to cool off in our pool on hot summer days like we did the neighbors on the other side. Nor did we go to their house for Karaoke Night or to play Skip-Bo. But we loved them with the love of the Lord. Sure, we did.
Did they know we were Christians? They may have seen us driving off on Sunday mornings with our church clothes and Bibles in hand (the Bible app on my phone is visible, right?), but no, we didn’t show them the love of God. And yet our Bible, the Script for our life performance, states the importance of neighborly love over and over again. Galatians 5:14 says, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”” We’ve got some work to do. Being neighborly and showing love to those around us is not based on their performances – how they treat us. It’s part of our performance as believers. It is a command, not a suggestion.
Anyone can be kind and treat their neighbors with respect. The believer’s additional challenge is found in Luke 6:35-36 where Jesus says:
Loving our enemies and doing good to them are not natural responses to being mistreated or hurt by someone; or even to responding to bad neighbors. That requires God’s help.
When the expert in religious law asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” in the tenth chapter of Luke, He did not define neighbor as the person who lives next door. He told the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate that our neighbors are anyone who needs our help or our love. In her book Unexpected, Christine Caine challenges believers to open their eyes and really see people the way Jesus sees them. Hurting people are all around us, but often we don’t see them as our neighbors; as the people who God wants us to love through our words and actions.
Lord, open my eyes and allow me to see them. Help me serve my neighbors in your love.
What can you do for a neighbor today? Could you shovel a driveway? Donate to a food bank? Offer to go shopping for someone who is immune-compromised? Do a Zoom meeting with someone who lives alone? Each of us can brighten someone’s day, even if it’s just a kind word and a masked smile.
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