Do you know your neighbors?
Less than two weeks ago, my feet touched American soil for the first time since August. After four months of non-stop, Spanish-speaking, purpose-packed, community-focused, Christ-centered madness, it felt a little strange to once again be completely alone in a crowded room. I never used to notice how isolated we’ve become here in the States, but being a missionary in a Mayan village certainly helped to drive that point home.
And how sad it is that we allow ourselves to be locked away in our suburban prison cells, hoping that perhaps one day our neighbors – or the people standing next to us in the Customs line in the airport – might actually make eye contact. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why have we allowed our fear of “awkward moments” and uncomfortable coffee table conversations to take control over our social lives?
I understand that some people are more outgoing than others, and that not everyone experiences loneliness on a regular basis, but culturally speaking, Americans are less community-oriented than many other cultures (rural Mexican culture, for example). We are all about independence and self-reliance – both good and important things in their own right, but also potentially dangerous if not balanced with a healthy dose of brotherly love.
Loneliness and isolation can lead to a myriad of problems, from facebook addiction and over-eating to self-mutilation and suicide. God created us as social beings (Genesis 2:18). He Himself is a community of love; Father, Son, and Spirit exist together in perfect unity, and man was created to share in that unity. That is why every human heart longs to know and be known. Not only are we searching for our Heavenly home, but we also desire to have a home here on earth. We need to know that we are safe, loved, and important to the people around us in order to thrive on a human level. So when we hide behind our smart phones and our ear buds, we run the risk of missing out on one of the most beautiful gifts that God has given us: relationship.
The village that I lived in last semester would crumble if it were to lose its sense of community. Everybody knows everybody else, and you are always being watched, which can be annoying at times, but there’s something magical about walking out of your house and being greeted by twelve people within the first minute and a half of being outside. The people of the town don’t have much, but they also rarely keep things for themselves. If they have something, it belongs to everybody. Nobody goes hungry, and everybody has a roof over their head. They have their problems, just like anywhere else, but at least they have problems together. Nobody bears their burdens alone.
I dare you, anonymous blog-reader: get to know your neighbors this New Year. Not “get to know them” as in know their names and general physical appearance. Get to know their stories. Get to know the things that they’re hoping for in 2012, and the things that worry them the most. Start with the people right next door, right next to you at church, or better still, right within your own home.
The Lord has put you where you are for a reason. So take the first step. Knock on the door, introduce yourself, and see where it takes you. The Kingdom of God is a perfect Community between souls and their Creator. Let us begin to make that Kingdom come by creating community in our own neighborhoods and families, so that the people around us can feel the love of Christ through us.