Jesus tells us in the Bible to “love your neighbour.” If my understanding of love is right then it means that it needs to be more than something I know in my head. You cannot love someone unless you have a relationship with them. One needs to be involved in the other’s life somehow, there should be a sharing of time in the same space.
But where are my neighbours? The neighbours I am referring to are those people who live beside me. I live in town so it’s those people who live only a few feet away from me or just across the street. But I never see them and they seldom see me.
Just a few months ago, a neighbour across the street, let’s call him Mike, actually came over to talk to me while I was working in the front yard. After four and a half years of living across from each other this was the first time we had talked with each other. I don’t think that qualifies very well for obedience to Jesus’ command.
And it is not like it was my neighbour’s fault either. I certainly have not made much effort to get to know him. When I get home I make a beeline for the house where I sit and watch television or spend time on the computer. When I’m outside I’m rushing around doing stuff so that it looks like I’m too busy for company.
Before I moved to Ponoka I had lived in another community for nine years. I did not get to know my neighbours until I had been there for about five years. Sure they knew more about us because we had five kids that could be loud and it was a neighbourhood filled with mostly seniors. One of my sons had begun to shovel the snow from the driveway for the couple across the road which began the relationship. But it was really only after the ambulance was there one evening to take her husband to the hospital for good that we finally could say we had begun to love our neighbour or at least have a relationship with her. The neighbour beside her I didn’t get to know until she moved away to some senior’s housing in another part of town. It is sad really that we live so close and yet do not know each other.
Our culture makes it so that we never see our neighbours. We have all kinds of gadgets to communicate with people but never have to see them face to face or touch them. Our entertainment takes us out of the neighbourhood and amongst strangers at movie theaters or restaurants. We have back alleys where there are garages from which we slink into our homes. Front porches are a thing of the past although I hear they are making a comeback.
Each household has their own machines and tools and vehicles so that we never have to share. I was thinking about the lawnmower. In town we have such small yards to cut and yet everyone has their own mower. It seems ridiculous. Why not buy one for the block and let everyone use it. That way we might begin to have a relationship and actually be neighbours.
I was thinking about when I was growing up. We lived on a farm where the neighbours were much more distant. Yet we knew them. My parents went out of their way to get even the hard to get to know ones. Sometimes we worked together on various things. Sometimes we ate together. Sometimes we played together. I knew my neighbours and now I look back and realize how much they enriched my life.
Now I suppose we could play a little with the definition of what a neighbour is. A neighbour is anyone we spend time with and not necessarily the person living beside me. In that case, there are many people to whom I offer neighbourly love. But what about the person living beside me? Here is the rub. I am so busy with work and activities and people that live far away from me that I have no time for those who are right beside me. When I get home from all my busyness I just want to be by myself or with my own family. I’m tired and I just want to rest.
We do not have the capability of knowing everyone. We can only have a deeper relationship with a few people. My limit is full with those people already. The rest we just keep as acquaintances, we might even call friends, but they are not neighbours we love. And so my immediate neighbours are my neighbours but they are not loved. I do not share life with them.
Somehow I wish that could change. How can people who live so close be so unknown? Jesus’ command has been haunting me of late. “Love your neighbour.” I suppose it begins with me. I need to go to my neighbour and get to know them. But I think I will need help so neighbours please come and get to know me too.