It really is.
It’s dang hard because neighboring forces us to take a good look at the condition of our heart. Engaging our neighbors shines a big fat light into who we really are. It wakes up sleeping prejudices. It brings to the surface any ungodly thought we have towards a particular type of person.
Neighboring reminds us we’re human. And fallible. And super sinful.
But good neighboring is also the simplest, best thing ever because it’s the one thing that has the potential to give us the best life ever.
It’s simple because neighboring happens in the natural rhythm of life. It’s not the extra something you pencil in on the calendar.
It’s what you do as you do what has to be done.
And it’s the best thing ever because neighboring meets our base level, human need for meaningful connections with other people. It fills up our love tank and gives us purpose in our places. It brings the Great Commandment right on home to our welcome mat.
Good neighboring creates space for kingdom work to take place- both personally and in our neighborhoods.
We grow in intimacy with God. We pray more. We wrestle with hard, heart things. We become more like Christ as we become well acquainted with our neighbors.
And our neighborhoods are strengthened. Our neighbors take pride in our communities. Our schools flourish. Crime goes down. Neighbors care for neighbors. Joy rests on our shoulders and shows up round our tables. Hope springs up in every crack.
Good neighboring is God’s plan for how we reconcile our places to Him- for OUR good and His glory.
And after four years of neighboring, here’s what I know.
We open our blinds. We sit on our front porches. We move the hammock to the front yard. We leave open the side gate to the backyard. We make ourselves visible. Instead of driving to the lake to run, we run in our neighborhood. Instead of eating dinner in the backyard at the picnic table, we move the picnic table to the front yard and eat there. We put up a basketball goal in the cul-de-sac. We show up and we make ourselves known.
2.) Good neighbors see, hear, and know.
As we begin to be more present in our neighborhoods, we begin to notice things that we might not have noticed before. We notice who works, when. We notice homes that are in disrepair. We notice yards that need trimming. We notice the one kid from down the street who is wearing the same shirt four days in a row. We begin to listen to the things our neighbors aren’t saying and all the things they are. We pay attention when the friends of our children can’t take their eyes off the basket of oranges on the counter. The more time we spend being in present in our communities, the more we see and hear and began to know our neighbors. We begin to listen to their groaning and see their plight in life and we begin to have compassion for them.
When our neighbors have faces and names and stories and the image of God boldly woven into their DNA, we begin to see them like Jesus sees them.
3.) Good neighbors choose to be with.
Neighboring is a marathon sport. Lives don’t change overnight and neither do communities. The first time I realized this was when a girl from 2 streets over came by for a visit. I had nine children at home with me at the time and the house was in utter chaos. I think we might have had 2 cats then, too. Anyway, Valarie had numerous drug addictions and a pimp and one little girl who had been taken from her and placed in foster care. I never knew when she was going to drop by or how long she was going to stay when she came. She dropped by one afternoon in the middle of the chaos and stayed the entire afternoon. And y’all, she never stopped talking. For over three hours, I sat next to her at the table, and listened to her talk a circle around truth. I remember being keenly aware that I could not give her anything but the ministry of my presensce at the table. And that my presence was exactly what was needed.
Good neighboring means that we choose to be with our people, no matter the cost because Jesus came to be with us. It means that we enter into the mess next door because the Hope of Jesus lives within us and we desire to bring hope where hope has not yet shown up. And it means we do it over and over and over again. Jesus is in the business of taking long walks with us and we should be in the same business.
4.) Good neighbors seek the welfare of our people and our places.
If I had known that Jesus was going to light a fire within me to right the wrongs in the city of Rocky Mount, I would have never moved here. Five years ago, I could not have cared less about poverty or racism or social injustice or our failing public schools because those things had no faces attached to them. But as I began to put down roots and get to know my neighbors, I found myself longing to understand the things that affected them and ultimately our entire city.
Good neighboring means that we seek the welfare of our neighbors because we deem their lives as equally as important as ours.
For us, this meant enrolling our kids in two failing, public schools. Our children are the only white children in either school. They are the 1% that can afford uniforms, school supplies, and lunch. They are our door into those schools. They are our skin in the game. And because we have skin in the game, we spend our lives improving the conditions at the two schools our neighbors’ children also attend.
For you, seeking the welfare of your people and place could mean choosing to shop locally. Or maybe it’s volunteering at your neighborhood school. Maybe it’s learning spanish.
Seek the welfare of your place. It’s where you’ll also find your own good.
5.) Good neighbors act compassionately and love well.
Good neighbors act compassionately and love well.
If we choose to be present in our neighborhoods and see and hear and know our neighbors, by being present with them, over time, we will grow in compassion and love towards them.
Compassion and love are the byproducts of neighboring well.
If Jesus lives in us, and we believe He does, then we have to expect that He is growing us from the inside out. Growth in Christ means that we grow in compassion and love towards our neighbors.
And this growth means that we will grow as good neighbors.
I say this all the time, but the more I say it, the more I know it’s true:
Our best life happens when we live in close community with those closest to us.
Pinky promise, y’all.
I’m living the best, most abundant life ever.