How do we love our neighbors?

When I was young, my siblings and I would often play with a soccer ball in our backyard. Inevitably, someone would powerfully kick the ball and it would go sailing over the privacy fence and into someone else’s yard. While we wanted our ball back, it was a rare occasion that any of us actually wanted to go knock on a neighbor’s door to ask for our ball. While we knew a couple of our neighbors, there were many people whom we didn’t know—and the thought of walking up to the house of a complete stranger was terrifying.

Thinking back on these memories, I realize that our situation was probably not atypical. It seems that, in our current culture, we often scurry from our homes into our cars, preoccupied with our phones or other concerns. If we see our neighbors, we may give them a glance and “hello,” but that’s about it. We don’t really know who lives on our street, except for what kind of car they may drive, how many pets they have, and how much trash they put on the curb each week.

Photo credit: “Neighborhood,” by ChanhNguyen, via Pixabay (2017). CCO Public Domain.

We’ve heard the story of the Good Samaritan in the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and we know that loving our neighbor means treating each person we greet with God’s love and mercy. Yet, while we may do a fantastic job at being kind to the strangers we meet in public—because they are our “neighbors”—we can forget that we need to love and care for our literal, next-door neighbors.

Recently, my husband and I moved into our first house, situated in a rather quiet neighborhood. The first few days after we moved in, I didn’t really know much about our neighbors. I would occasionally see them in passing, but I was preoccupied getting unpacked and settling into our home. However, this quickly began to change. A few people introduced themselves to me, so I at least knew who some of my neighbors were. Then, one woman invited me over to coffee at her house, where I was entertained with stories about the beginnings of television in America. A few days later, another woman invited me to coffee at her house and then took me around her garden, gathering tools to loan me so that I could begin a small garden of my own.

In just a few weeks, I have seen beautiful love and concern from some of my neighbors as they seek to welcome our family. As I’ve told other people about my neighborhood, I’ve realized how, in the experience of many people, the level of kindness and care I’ve been experiencing is rare. I find this very sad, but unsurprising. We can make ourselves so busy that we have little time or desire to create bonds of friendship with others in our neighborhoods.

This summer, I challenge you to change this trend.

You don’t need to cook an elaborate meal or plan a massive neighborhood cook-out; sometimes, having these expectations for ourselves can hold us back from reaching out to others. Spend time outside and introduce yourself to your neighbors. Invite them over for coffee. Ask them for advice on lawn care. If you’re new to the area, ask them for recommendations on places to eat or attractions to visit. Introducing yourself to a near-complete stranger who you’ve been living by for months or years may be awkward, but seeking to love your neighbors and growing in community is well worth any awkwardness. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and we shouldn’t overthink things. Just love your neighbors—those strangers in public places, and the men and women who live next door.