The Neighboring Journey

neighborhood-houses_E1WPGCLOC3.jpegBy AARON CHARLES

I need. I should. I...

...I have a lot of guilt when it comes to neighboring.

When I was kid, we’d have cookouts with our neighbors. I played games with my neighbor’s grandson for hours on end. I worked for my neighbors down the street.

Now, as an adult, I’ve found that cultivating those relationships does not happen automatically. When I walk out to water my plants and see my neighbor in their yard, I think of all the things I should do or say.

One time, we had a leak in our washing machine. It spilled water out into our dining room to the point that all the towels in our house were not enough to keep up. Sarah walked over to our neighbors and asked to use their shop-vac. We asked another neighbor for an extension cord. The problem was fixed in no time.

Another time, our neighbor helped me shovel my driveway. A few weeks later, I returned the favor.

These are very neighborly moments. More than that, they are moments when our neighbors came to our rescue. We weren’t the ones coming to theirs. At the same time, I’ve noticed something missing from these interactions.

The idea of just being together.

I’ve gotten in the habit of seeing neighbor relationships as wholly transactional. You do this, and I do that. In the instances above, we desperately needed the help of our neighbors. Returning the favor was a good thing to do. I’m not saying there was anything wrong about those interactions.

But when I see my neighbor out watering his lawn, I’m not sure my first thought should be about what I need to do or say. Maybe he just wants to water his lawn. Maybe I don’t need to put so much pressure on this relationship.

I’m really thankful for my neighbors. I don’t know all of them very well, but I know that they are kind, conscientious people. I’m not sure it’s fair to put the pressure on that relationship of thinking we have to be the closest friends ever just because we live next door.

And yet, Jesus calls us to “love our neighbor” just like we love ourselves.

Surely the definition of who our neighbor is does not stop with those who live next door. But it also surely includes them. And so we’re left with the tension between answering the clear calling placed upon us by our Creator God and the messiness of real life.

I don’t have a great answer for you on this one. I’m just being honest here. In my 29 years of life, I haven’t cracked this code yet. But I’m seeking to learn. And I know there are people around me who are great neighbors, and I want to learn from them.

One lesson I have learned is to stop seeing the places around me as “less than.” It’s easy to fall into conversations about certain places that dwell on negativity. But the truth is far more nuanced. I’ve met and befriended people from places I used to talk about negatively, and I now see the deep problems with the way I used to think and talk.

More than anything, I keep coming back to the importance of humility. Of not seeing myself as the central character in the story. Of not thinking that I have something to give to my neighbors more than they have something to give to me. Of thinking that every interaction has to be world changing.

Sometimes it’s okay to just be and to just be together.

That’s where I am. I haven't arrived to the end destination yet, but I’m on the journey.