Growing up we sort of knew the Robinson’s across the street. I played with the kids next door and a few doors down. The neighbor behind us had a dog and sometimes would say “hi” to us when we were outside at the same time.
Not much of interest in that paragraph is there? There’s an awareness that I had neighbors, but nothing of substance in terms of relationships. Granted, I was a child and children don’t often think much outside their bubble of who is around to play with. However, as an adult living in apartments, I knew even fewer of my neighbors.. In my first apartment there was the guy above me who never came outside during the day. He looked like the “my precious” creature from Lord of the Rings and called the cops on me regularly for inane complaints such as: vacuuming at 2 am which woke him up (I assure you I’m asleep and definitely not vacuuming at that hour!) or burning a fire in my fireplace and the smoke got into his apartment (not how chimney’s work). Somehow, I never got his name and we weren’t close (HA!)
The following 5 apartments that we lived in over the next 6 years had neighbors that were a lot more sane, but also kept to themselves. I couldn’t tell you anything about what my neighbors even looked like in any of those places. What a tragedy! Maybe we could have been friends, if I’d made an effort.
Moving on to our first house, I knew the neighbors on either side of my on a first-name basis. Herschel was retired and loved his yard work! He was always sweet to my son. Glen & Teresa were precious and welcomed us in to their home a couple of times. I think one reason for knowing these neighbors a bit more was that I became a tad more intentional. Taking cookies & asking to borrow a lawn-mower created opportunities for simple conversations which continued over time. However, I still wouldn’t say that I really knew or “loved” my neighbors.
As we moved to Tampa, my husband and I prayed that God would place us in a neighborhood, that we would be part of a community within our neighborhood and that we would develop friendships and ministry opportunities within our neighborhood. When I first got an apartment, I was concerned about safety and a low rent. Now, here I was still concerned about a low mortgage but also asking God for the ability to love our neighbors well!! What a shift of perspective in 10 years! I’m happy to say that God heard our prayers and graciously answered. We have a fantastic neighborhood, a great community atmosphere and I’m slowly but surely getting to know my neighbors. I can confidently say, I love my neighbors.
Scripture says multiple times to “love your neighbor.” Matthew 22:37-40 lays out 2 commandments on which everything else rests. “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” I realize that commentaries will talk about your neighbor being anyone who is with you in life whether a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor. However, while that may be true, I think our society has used that to justify not loving our actual, literal neighbor.
We live in a society in which everyone enters through their garage, never spends time outside, and rarely do more than a passing wave to a neighbor as they walk their dog and you walk yours. We’re all busy and it can be a challenge to learn your neighbor’s name, occupation, and if they go to church. But are we trying? Kristen Schell wrote The Turquoise Table and the encouragement is to be “front yard people.” Spend time in your front yard. Introduce yourself to the neighbor walking his/her dog. Pay attention to the routine of your neighbors and check on them if something is off.
We have to decide to be intentional with loving our neighbors. It takes work and time. Here are a few practical ideas of how to love your neighbors:
Participate in neighborhood events. Movie nights, community cookouts or pool parties, or food drives are all things our neighborhood does from time to time. We can’t go to everything, but we go when we can. Even if no friendships are formed, at least we get to see our neighbor’s and have an idea of who is sharing in our community.
Be outside. One of the best things I’ve done is go on walks with my daughter around the time people are coming home from work. It started as a survival tactic because the “witching hour” is real but now it’s become a favorite activity for me. She smiles and waves at every car and it’s created opportunities at later dates for conversation.
Take cookies to your neighbors. When I was doing the #elfdeliveryproject this December, I mentioned this. We have 41 houses on our street. We took cookies to all of those houses and we genuinely surprised many of them. Doors were opened to us just because we had cookies. Even better, a few neighbors reciprocated and we found goodies from them over the rest of the week. Don’t wait for the neighbors to greet you when you move in; take them some cookies and introduce yourself. Give your address and names so they know where to find you.
Set up a lemonade stand. We haven’t done this yet, but I’m excited to talk to our Spirit Committee and see if we can make it happen (HOA regulations and all). Have your kids set up a lemonade stand about the time people are coming home from work. Encourage the kiddos to donate their money to a local non-profit, or don’t even charge for the lemonade! Make posters and bring in a few of the neighbor’s kids too! Even if you only sell 4 or 5 cups, that’s 4 or 5 faces you’ve connected with and showed love to.
Get their phone number in case there’s an emergency. I’m the queen of forgetting to ask for people’s phone numbers. Then I’m left stalking them on Facebook trying to connect with them when I need to touch base. We have the phone numbers of a few of our neighbors. It’s been so helpful when the power has gone out, they’re out of town but a package is on their doorstep, or even asking for a jar of spaghetti sauce (happened 2 days ago - side note, do people even ask to borrow food from their neighbors anymore???).
There’s many more ways to love your neighbors well. However you choose to get to know your neighbors is a great way! The ways I listed are just a couple of ideas to get you excited about being intentional. The challenge and reminder is to actually know your neighbors. Love them. Show hospitality to your neighbors. After all, Scripture commands it.