These weeks of lockdown have forced us in California to do what most of us do not do very well—pay attention to our neighbors. Most of us live lives organized around work, hobbies and church or another association. Little time remains for engaging the people next door (who live the same way).
Now, we find ourselves regularly bumping into these strangers in the homes and apartments around us and we are like junior highers at their first dance—you want to get on the floor with someone but you are terrified of rejection or making a fool of yourself.
Jesus tells us to “love our neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31); how can we become intentional about this?
Try some baby steps
Know their names.
You know for yourself what it means to be known by your name. Learning your neighbors’ names may be as easy as (shudder) introducing yourself when you bump into each other on you “I have to get out of this house” walk. Or be sneaky and ask the neighbor you do know what the names are of that couple in the yellow house. Once you know their name, use it when you see them—even when you are driving by. We all love to be acknowledged.
Ask yourself, “If I were in their shoes what would be meaningful to me?” We try to make a point of bringing new neighbors a loaf of Barb’s baked bread, or chocolate chip cookies; we use the opportunity to exchange names and concretely welcome them to the neighborhood. It may be an act of service . A young man on our street I mentored for a while recently texted me to see if we needed anything and offered to run errands for us. At Easter we left a chocolate bunny on each porch and an invitation to our on-line services—people loved it!
Partner with them.
We have a Girl Scout on our street. We always buy lots of cookies from her—I know, “big sacrifice, Mr. Cookie Monster.” But actually, we give most of them away. Mainly, we just want her to know that we support her. (In the same way, we host a party every year [see below] and her parents bought us an easy-up for that purpose). Pay attention to what they care about and join them when you can!
Celebrate a bit.
This is hard right now but things will settle down. About six years ago or so we invited everyone for coffee and bagels on Labor Day—we expected maybe four people. We had a dozen! We thought they would stay an hour; they stayed all morning. Every year it grew. Now we have about twenty-five to thirty. Kids come, everyone brings something and so “coffee and bagels’ has turned into breakfast—and they stay till noon. That led to some 4th of July parties and summer movie nights. A very insular neighborhood has become a community.
Invite them to make a difference.
Our city celebrates Love Placentia every year, a day for community service. We have invited families to join in and over the last couple years we added several families (one woman became a project leader last year!).
This year Love Placentia was cancelled but we have given grocery bags to every home with a shopping list of needed items for the food pantry of a local church that is feeding 240 families per week. When you serve together something happens; a spiritual connection occurs. That leads to all kinds of new adventures.
Jesus says that loving your neighbor is next in importance to loving God. Maybe it should matter to us?