I’m currently going through a class via a network of local churches that my church is heavily involved with. The class teaches us the Gospel story and how it relates to the everyday — our workplace, our families, our communities, our situations.
Each week, we have a practice task that we are to complete and then discuss in class on Sunday after church.
This week’s task was to learn the name of a neighbor who you don’t know.
I’m embarrassed to say that before today, I only knew one name besides that of my landlord next door.
I immediately came up with excuses when I read through the practice activity. On one side of my family’s house is my landlord; I know her name and talk to her semi-regularly, so I don’t need to get to know her anymore, I reasoned with myself. On the other side is a house that was built exclusively as an AirBnB; I can’t talk to them because there’s not always someone there, and when someone is renting it, they probably don’t want to be bothered, I justified.
Of the three houses directly across the street, two of them are vacant, and I know the name of the man who lives in the third. I don’t know his family’s names, but knowing his name is good enough, right?
So, I rationalized my being a poor neighbor and went about my day.
Then, at the same time as every other afternoon, I heard the mail truck speed away. I looked outside and saw John, the neighbor across the street who I haven’t bothered to get to know over the past three years, walking up my driveway.
He knocked on my door. Crap, I thought. I don’t want to talk to him.Talking to John was always awkward because neither of us knew what to say.
I opened the door. The mailman had delivered a piece of junk mail with my wife’s name on it to John by mistake. He wasn’t sure if it was junk and wanted to make sure we got it (it was one of those sneaky “FINAL NOTICE” kinds of junk).
We chatted awkwardly for a few minutes, as we always do when we see each other. But this time, he disclosed that his wife’s mother had passed away a couple weeks ago. I learned his wife’s name — Martha — but only under such tragic circumstances.
Later in the evening, I chatted with my landlord as I brought our trash to the curb. She was upset and crying. She was missing her husband, who passed away only a few months ago. I gave her a hug and we talked about how good it was that her family had been there for the holidays.
I’m surrounded by hurting families, but can’t be bothered to spend any time with them. To know their hurts and struggles. To know their stories.
I love to make excuses about this: I’m too busy. I have a limited amount of time to spend with my family that everyone is home. John chain smokes and it’s hurtful to our health (especially mine) if I breathe it in. Our landlord probably doesn’t want to be bothered.
But in reality, we’re all longing for human connection. We need each other. And as Christians, we’re called to sit in the muck of life with our neighbors. To empathize with them and work through their tragedies together. To hear their stories, and to share ours.
And by making excuses and avoiding my neighbors, I not only hurt the community that could be happening around us, but I also teach my children that it’s okay to be selfish. That it’s okay to constantly put myself first and not others, which is contradictory to the Bible we claim to know. That it’s not important to invest in the lives of others, even though God wants to use us to shine his light.