“Love your neighbor,” Jesus, said, and it didn’t take long for people to get confused.
“Who is my neighbor?” The expert in the law immediately asked.
It’s been thousands of years and most of us are still asking this question.
There are a lot of glamorous and brag-worthy ways to love your neighbor. Mission trips to exotic places, status-giving leadership roles in the church, trendy positions with community-shaping events.
Before I go on: these positions are important. I wholeheartedly believe your neighbor is just as much the woman in the hijab in Saudi Arabia as it is your actual neighbor who never mows their lawn. I believe Christ followers need to be shaping culture and that being faithful to the call on our lives sometimes requires us to do scary, big things for the Kingdom. I believe it’s important to be a leader in your church and to give to overseas missions and also the underserved in your own community. I think you should be seeking out the people who are unlike you, and not only serving them but also trying to learn from them.
For me, though, I think I believed these were the only ways to love my neighbor. Or, at least, the best ways to love my neighbor.
I’m seeing now I was as crazy confused as that expert in the law.
Last year we moved to a new place where doing the gold star Christian things became tricky. We had a hard time finding a church, and for sometimes trivial, sometimes significant reasons, the other things we tried to do fell through and we were left with less Christian boxes checked and more free time than usual.
This was very disconcerting for me. I’ve never lived my life this way. I’ve always had lots and lots of items on my Christian Resume.
I thought that with such a lack of regular “service” opportunities I’d have all kinds of time on my hands, but actually I realized that as my eyes shifted from everyone far away I realized the gaping needs of the people right in front of me.
I also realized the gaping needs inside me, and let them heal, little by little, through the care and service of the people I was choosing to love, too. I let them serve me and I sought to serve them, and to my surprise I wasn’t sitting at home with nothing to do, I was inviting people in and having long, honest phone conversations and talks on the porch over wine with my closest friends because I had time to be there. And I was healing too, because I was still and quiet enough to be honest with myself and be vulnerable with the ones I trusted most.
When the obligations and the ministry and volunteering aren’t pulling you a million directions, there are people desperate for love and care right beside you. They’re your parents, your friends, your spouse, your significant other, your nieces, your nephews, your kids.
Sometimes we treat our closest circle like the ones who should be there for us after all the hard spent time doing “real” ministry. We expect them to be the ones who can handle a last-minute cancellation when “other” things are more important.
But really, they’re broken, too. They’re deserving of your time and your encouragement.
Plus, and just as importantly, you are not invincible. You need care and rest and accountability, and they are the ones equipped to speak to your needs and your weaknesses better than anyone else.
In this unexpected season, I’ve had time for some things that have been so important in my friendships & my marriage, things that have made a difference. They’re things I want to take with me through every season:
- I’ve made time for them.
I want to stop scheduling every little moment of my day and my week with the things I should do or have to do. I’m working to leave extra space not just to refresh myself but to serve people close to me — to spend time with Stu, to get coffee with a friend, to have someone over for dinner. I’m not thinking of this as indulgent “free” time or time I could be using for something more important. This is important.
- I’ve been honest with them.
I hope my honesty is a gift & a balm, not only to me but to my friends. Being honest about the hard things strips away my pride and lets people in to speak truth to my broken pieces. Even if it’s only a few people, I’m letting them really know me. I’ve learned that it’s only arrogance, laziness, or selfishness to keep everything to myself — our stories aren’t ours to hoard, but to give as a testament to God’s redemptive work in our lives.
- I’ve visited them.
Stu and I have lived far away from most of our friends and family for almost three years, and visits have become some of the best times. When we were in Arkansas five of my best friends came to visit and I was floored with how kind and generous that was — and we had the best time. This year I drove 14 hours to spend a day and a half with my best friend and it was completely worth it. We flew across the country to spend a few days with friends and it’s one of our best 2018 memories. I flew home to help throw one of my closest friends a bridal shower and it was incredibly special. We’ve gone to Michigan and Somerset a several times to be with family. It’s time, it’s money, it’s a commitment, but I feel so loved and valued when someone takes an entire weekend to spend with me, and I equally value doing that for my friends. These weekends open up a new part of my life, the things we otherwise would miss, and we get the in between times together — the getting ready moments, making coffee moments, before bed moments.
- I’ve called them.
Picking up the phone and calling can be hard for me. It can feel like a weirdly big time commitment. But it keeps me and my friends and family leveled on the day to day. I’ve had so many calls where I pick up the phone to catch up and it turns into honest, vulnerable conversation, conversation that was necessary for each of us. And these “check in” conversations make us feel like when something is really wrong, when we really need a listening ear, we know whose numbers to dial. I’m learning to make time for calls like I would for coffee dates.
This season has been hard and humbling in a lot of ways. I’m learning, big time, that I place a lot of value in what I do, and that is totally not where God places my value. When there’s not much for me to do I throw a lot of things into question.
But I’ve also had one of the most important and transformative seasons in my faith, and learned the value of relationships in incredibly profound ways.
Someday I pray and hope that we get better connected with ministries and service opportunities that we feel passionate about. I hope we get back outside our context and use our gifts in ways that nourish our soul and further God’s kingdom. For now, though, I’m realizing that I can further God’s kingdom inside the walls of my apartment, and this is not a wasted season. That most likely God has kept me from some of those “important” things because he wants me doing these things. God is repairing broken things through conversations and vulnerability and meals and morning coffee. I’m realizing that loving my neighbor means the people outside my context, yes, but it also definitely means the people very closest to me.