Last weekend, we traveled to Memphis, TN to visit my family. It was a long time in the car both there and back, and gas prices were out of this world; but we thoroughly enjoyed seeing my grandparents and aunt. However, we also learned a valuable lesson from my brother and his wife.
We stayed with Drew and Kacie for two nights. We had plenty of time to catch up over pizza, and let our kids play with their two daughters (who they rarely see). On Friday night Drew built a fire in their backyard, and we sat around and talked deep into the night.
After the fire started burning, one of Drew’s neighbors wandered over with his daughter. They stayed for a while, had some laughs, and then went home. At first I was somewhat bothered that a neighbor had to join us; I rarely get to see my brother, and liked the thought of spending time with his family away from other people. On top of that, I can be a bit introverted around strangers. But as the evening wore on, I genuinely enjoyed getting to know this neighbor and was glad he came.
Throughout the weekend, it became clear that this is just what my brother and his wife do. On most weekends neighbors walk over to their house to simply hang out. Some of these neighbors are younger than they are, some are around the same age, and some are older. Some are single and some are married. Some are Christians and some are not. Some have kids and some don’t. Some are white and some are black. Some are from Memphis originally, and others aren’t. One is a doctor, another is a carpenter, and yet another is retired. It’s a diverse group of friends gathering together on Friday evenings to sit out in a driveway and unwind. It all started during the COVID lockdown of spring 2020 and just never went away.
I’ll be honest: I found myself feeling jealous of my brother’s relationships with his neighbors. We know several of our neighbors on a casual, friendly basis; they’ve helped us from time to time, and we’ve helped them in return. But in the five years we’ve lived in our house, we haven’t made enough effort to really, truly build relationships with our neighbors to the point of looking forward to hanging out with them on a Friday night.
Yes, it takes two to tango; the fault isn’t ENTIRELY on us. Some people are simply more private than others, not all personalities “click”, and in our culture of busyness (and even suspicion) it may not always be easy to form relationships with our neighbors.
But as I found myself wishing I lived in a neighborhood more like my brother’s, filled with close friendships like theirs, I was also convicted to do a better job of loving the neighbors God has already put directly under my nose.
One of my neighbors is a pastor at a church in Carmel; it would be great to build a friendship with someone who understands the unique challenges of church leadership and learn from his experience. Many of my neighbors have kids the same age as ours; we have a perfectly natural reason to strengthen our connections with them. And to our knowledge, most of our neighbors do not go to church anywhere; we have ministry opportunities (literally) right next door.
As the weather gets warmer, school winds down, and I start to get a good feel for the new grill I got for my birthday, Olivia and I need to do a better job of loving our neighbors. If you have great relationships with your neighbors, I’d love to hear any advice you may have. And if you’re like me – having courteous, but not exactly deep relations with your neighbors – I’d challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and make the effort to love them, as Jesus teaches us to do.
Based on what I saw last weekend, it will be worth the effort in this life. And who knows; God may even use your efforts to love your neighbor to bear fruit for eternal life.