Some of us remember when it was common for folks to sit on their front porches after supper and watch the world go by. The theft of a porta-potty would hardly go unnoticed! But today, there aren’t many people sitting on their porches. Instead of interfacing with their neighbors, many families have fallen into the habit of closing their blinds after supper and holing up with their television sets.Recently, our local newspaper reported the theft of a porta-potty. Sometimes, you just have to laugh! Though it sat in clear view at a construction site in a suburban neighborhood, evidently there was no one around to witness the theft.
They are missing a lot! We don’t have to look far to find interesting people who will enrich our lives – wonderful people we’d want to know – and they may be right next door, across the street, or just over the fence. We don’t have to look far to find hurting, needy people either – people who need the Savior.
Neighbors are pretty important, in God’s book. Our second greatest commandment is to love them! The Lord puts us in proximity of certain people, right in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities. As Christians, we are called to relationship. We are called to reach out and get to know our neighbors!
When somebody new moves into your neighborhood, it is simple and easy to arrive at their front door with something gooey and delicious from your oven and an invitation to your church. There are surveys that say the reason many people don’t attend church is actually because they’ve never been invited! What a great opportunity we have to welcome newcomers in our neighborhood. Continue with an invitation to your home or offer to go to a local park for a picnic with the new family.
Consider also inviting both new and old neighbors for a get-together at your house. This thoughtful gesture goes a long way toward helping the newcomer to make friends and to feel at home. You might want to host a neighborhood potluck, barbeque, or backyard picnic.
But getting together on a regular basis with our neighbors will require some simpler ideas. My husband and I enjoy inviting others for a game of backyard croquet or badminton. Sometimes we’ll invite a neighbor for root beer floats on our patio, where we can sit and talk on a warm summer evening. We also enjoy taking walks around our block and stopping to chat with any neighbors we see outside.
If we think intentionally about getting to know our neighbors, we will discover all kinds of opportunities to do it. Use your own creativity and whatever resources you have for neighborhood fun and hospitality – whether it be a backyard game, board games, a ping-pong table in the basement, or a patio set. Having our neighbors over doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Whatever you can do, just do it!
As you spend time with your neighbors, you will learn more about their lives, including any trials and situations they are facing. Soon will come the time to deepen your friendship by asking a sincere and gentle question: “How can I pray for you?”
I have observed that even unbelievers seem to respond very positively to this question. Some of your unchurched neighbors may be uncomfortable if you pray in their presence. So be sure your gesture will be welcome if you offer to do that. But asking how to pray for your neighbors is not perceived to be threatening. This simple question communicates your faith in God and your love for your neighbor.
I clearly remember the first time someone asked me that question. At a very difficult time in my life, I poured out my heart to a woman in church. After listening carefully, she paused and gently probed, “How can I pray for you?” I was very touched by her compassion. In fact, it helped me to discern what my real needs were and what I needed to focus on to move ahead. This is the kind of sensitivity we can develop toward our neighbors, as we become more involved in their lives and learn to care deeply for them.
Don’t stop with a prayer. Keep the communication going and walk beside your neighbors through their trials. Maybe you will learn that one of your neighbors has a loved one in a hospital or nursing home. Offer to care for the children while they visit or to pick up groceries for them – whatever practical kind of help comes to mind.
I have watched my sister reach out to her neighbors for several years with many invitations to her home. Last year, she received a phone call late at night from one of these neighbors. Their cat had been killed and the family was feeling very distressed. They called Carolyn up and asked her to come over and pray with them. That was a first for her!
Recently, a family in her neighborhood moved out of state. The wife was critically ill with cancer, and while living in Carolyn’s neighborhood, the two had become very close. Shortly after they moved away, the woman’s condition worsened, and she became a hospice patient. Her husband then phoned my sister, and Carolyn drove to their new state to be with her as the end neared. On the way there, Carolyn picked up her friend’s son at the state university. All of this came about because Carolyn opened her home and her heart to her neighbors!
My sister’s unusually close relationship with her neighbors is exceptional. But it doesn’t have to be. Instead of just living beside our neighbors, we too can learn to walk beside them as we step out to care for them through their circumstances and trials.
As we become more visible and intentional, getting to know our neighbors, we will grow increasingly aware of the needs right outside our door. Each of us can truly make a difference in our communities, by tearing open our blinds and opening up our hearts.