Recently, my family had a very nice woman who lives a few houses down from us welcome us to the neighborhood. This was such a sweet thing…but there was just one problem: We have been living in our neighborhood for the past NINE years.
So after 9 years of living right next to each other, my family didn’t know her, and she didn’t know us. And actually, I’ve already forgotten her name. But really, who cares, right? It’s not that big of a deal. These days, we don’t live in a society where you’d casually knock on your neighbor’s door for a cup of sugar when you need some. With social media and the technology available to keep in touch with friends and family who are not within our living vicinity, there’s hardly an expectation or a blink of an eye from anyone if you don’t know your literal neighbors. Knowing and having community with your actual neighbors is not really that important anymore….right?
One former mayor from Colorado would strongly disagree. In 2009, a group of pastors proposed some big ideas to their mayor in Colorado to help with their city issues of homelessness and lack of services for the community. What the mayor told these pastors next, however, surprised them and may surprise you. He shared that ‘’there are a lot of issues that face our community, but the majority of them would be drastically reduced if we just became good neighbors— if we took Jesus seriously when he said to love God, and love your neighbor.”
Can the answer really be this simple? When we look around and see all the needs in our society, how would we answer the question, “What is the greatest need in America?” Aren’t the problems in our cities so complex that they require politicians and experts to create strategic policies and programs to even make the slightest dent in these multi-layered issues? Or could it be that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said over 2,000 years ago that the second greatest commandment after loving God was to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself? Could Jesus really have known that good neighbors can have the most positive impact on a community helping to see crime rates drop, property values rise, and helping increase health.
My church recently finished doing a series called Love Where You Live where these types of things were discussed with the hope that we would love our neighbors. And through this series, my wife and I mutually came to the same conclusion: We’ve been pretty bad neighbors. We don’t know our neighbors’ names and we really never made an effort to get to know them. And to be blunt, we just didn’t care. To make it worst, I’ve even gotten into an argument with my neighbor over trash when they were moving out. I’m not winning any great neighbor awards if there are any out there.
But what would it look like if we changed our perspectives and priorities and started to care about the people who live next to us? What if we started to believe that we have been placed in our neighborhoods for a purpose – to bless our neighbors as we’ve been blessed? I know for some of you, this may be easy. Perhaps you are extroverted and it is more natural to put yourself out there— and that’s awesome. I would love your tips and advice. For many others, however, including myself, this is difficult. It’s easier for me to do a service project because that only requires a couple of hours of service with strangers, but being a neighbor is a 24/7 commitment! They’ll always be there and watching you especially if they know you’re a Christian. They’ll see how you live and that puts pressure on you to be a good neighbor. It’s easier to hide.
But after being challenged and encouraged by our church, my wife and I took some time to step out of our comfort zones and walked around our neighborhood to say “hi.” We knocked on about 15 homes to introduce ourselves and pass out hot chocolate. I sheepishly stood behind my wife and kid who acted as a barrier between me and the discomfort and awkwardness I felt going out of my way just to say hi. And you could tell at first, our neighbors felt awkward as well, suspicious of what we were doing and what we wanted. But within a minute, they would completely change and warm up, and by the end of the hour, I learned one important lesson—our neighbors had great smiles and I wanted to get to know them more! It was so wonderful to finally to put a name to the faces that we had seen from a distance for almost a decade. And I didn’t realize how diverse my neighbors were – people from all over the world. While we didn’t chat long with them, I felt inspired to continue to build our relationship and hear more of their amazing stories in the future. This simple activity turned out to be one of the most blessed things we have done together as a family in a long time.
I hope you’ll join us in this adventure. I totally get that we’re busy and stuff like this can be really awkward. But this is an incredible opportunity to love and bless others and make a real impact on the health of our nation. Here are five steps whether you need to take baby steps or you’re the neighborhood watch leader that wants some more ideas.
1) Say “Hi” and have ask questions ready to ask your neighbor when you pick up the mail or take out the trash.
2) Take a walk around your neighborhood with your family and introduce yourselves. I recommend going with your spouse or kid or pet… (or niece or nephew or friend’s dog!); it can help to break the ice and make things less awkward.
3) Pass out Holiday treats to your neighbors with a card. Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner. This is the best reason and opportunity to show your neighbors that you exist and that you care.
4) Have a garage or yard sale. This is a win-win situation. You can clean out your house, make some money and meet your neighbors. I recommend having some free coffee and donuts and you’ll have some great conversations.
5) Throw a party in front of your house (not the back) especially for your kid’s birthday party. Make sure you get a bounce house for all the kids to see and they will come. If you don’t have young kids to throw parties for, a casual holiday party with simple snacks and drinks like an open house might be a fun, non-threatening way for neighbors to drop by and say hi.
While my family and I are taking baby steps and are novices at being good neighbors, I’m encouraged to know that there are some inspirational super-neighbors out there. My friend, Lee, epitomizes the heart of loving your neighbor. In the past four years, his family of four has invited eleven different people from so many different families to stay at their house.
Currently, he has a 3-year old, a 1 year old, and one more on the way. My wife and I have a 2-and-a-half year old and one more on the way, and we’re already feeling like 3-bedrooms is not enough. But Lee and his whole family stay in ONE bedroom (can you imagine the great sleep they are getting?) This isn’t done out of necessity but out of generosity. They stay in one bedroom, so that they can open up the other two bedrooms for his neighbors in need. For instance, he has had a mother and five kids stay with them for a few months because she was in an abusive relationship and needed shelter. I believe that if anyone would win a neighbor of the year award, it would be Lee and his family. He genuinely cares for his community. This inspires me to take more initiative to love and bless my neighbors and live out the second greatest commandment! I hope you’ll join me and my family in taking steps towards changing our neighborhoods, one relationship at a time!