Our church mission statement is “Love God. Make Disciples. Be Great Neighbors.” After *many* years, I feel like I have an understanding of loving God and making disciples. I understand why it’s so so important, and I know my strengths and weaknesses in both areas. When it comes to loving my neighbor….I struggle. I know we are our own worst critics, but I often feel like I fall short of truly loving my neighbors well. Through ideas and thoughts put into my head that I know didn’t come from me (I’m not that wise, guys), I am slowly starting to understand more and more what this looks like for me. As I now feel called to share, I pray that this post convicts you gently but powerfully, and I pray that I, as your neighbor, love you well even if I don’t know you personally.
We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’ve all heard this a thousand times, whether that be in church or from your mom when you and your sibling get into a fight over who took the last chicken nugget without asking. The hard thing about loving your neighbor as yourself is that you have to love yourself in order to do so. This sounds simple, and maybe it is for you, but for me, this is so dang hard. A lot of the time, I judge, reject, and fail to love those who remind me of my own sin or those who remind me of things I don’t love about myself. It’s hardest for me to walk alongside someone who is going through a season that reminds me of what I don’t want to think about. I did this for a long time before recognizing what I was doing, but once I did I began to take a step back and I felt truly horrible. If I see someone walking through a season I’ve had to navigate, shouldn’t I be the first to run to their side and support them? If it’s something I’m struggling with currently, shouldn’t I be vulnerable in that so they know they aren’t alone and are still loved deeply? Isn’t that what I’d want my neighbor to do for me?
In a feeble attempt to try to break this habit, I have been trying to ask myself “why?” more. Why am I avoiding talking to this person? Why do I feel uncomfortable when they walk into the room? If the reason isn’t an exceedingly good one that the Lord has placed on my heart (which he probably hasn’t, let’s be real), I push myself to ask them about their life and how I can care for them well.
That’s another thing I’ve been doing — actually asking upfront and outright how I can care for someone. Everyone has a different love language, and everyone likes to receive love in different ways. For me personally, it’s acts of service and quality time. For you, it might be physical touch and words of affirmation. Whatever it is, letting people know how you like to be cared for can greatly affect how cared for you feel.
A couple of months ago, I caught myself being a hard neighbor to love. We are all hard to love sometimes, don’t get me wrong, but I was making myself hard to love. Intentionally. What the heck? Who does that? And…WHY? I was pushing people away and not asking for what I needed, even when there were people surrounding me ready to give to me whatever I might ask for. Being loved well teaches us so much about how to love others well, and beginning to let myself be fully known and fully loved is what truly shifted my perspective on loving people like Jesus loves us. When someone gives love to you that you don’t deserve, you want to do the same for others. Learning to accept and ask for love in the way you need it can actually help you spread love better.
Lastly, the Lord has put on my heart that there truly is nobody too far gone. He didn’t send Jesus to die on the cross for Christians, but not certain people groups. There’s nobody that “can’t be your neighbor”. ALL are undeserving of the love of Jesus, yet it is there for ALL to receive. So, I’ve been making an active effort to diversify the people in my life. Whether that means inviting people with different opinions, personalities, or sexual orientations and gender preferences, I am trying to be a good neighbor in getting to know them. I’m asking them intentional questions, and I’m making an effort to pour into every single person who crosses my path. I truly believe that the Holy Spirit lives in me, which means that every single day I get to be Jesus to somebody. I get to show them a quality or characteristic of God they might not have encountered yet. Being a good neighbor and a good steward of that gift means not excluding anybody from the reach of the love of Jesus.
In an effort to be a good neighbor to all of you who I don’t know or interact with daily, I hope you’ll send a prayer request to me. You can do this in the comments box below or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by sending me a DM on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I will read them and pray over them, and they will remain anonymous. Nothing will ever be shared here, but I may check back in with you in an effort to love you well if you’ll allow me to. I hope that if you’re even considering reaching out, you would do so now!