Your arms slice through the water repeatedly as you pick up speed. With 10 laps to go, you hear the sound of coughing and splashing nearby. Turning your head, you notice a person struggling to stay afloat. Assuming the lifeguard will take care of it, you keep swimming. After finishing your laps, you get out of the pool to see a man being carried away on a stretcher, and you hear someone say: “He probably would have made it if someone had gotten to him sooner.” Your heart sinks.
None of us would ever purposely watch someone drown, but we may do this spiritually more often than we realize. We get so caught up in our own routine that we miss what is happening in the “lane” right next to us. To describe this, some Christians use the phrase, “I am just stuck in a Christian bubble.” It’s an odd thing to say, because we are the minority; we are literally surrounded by unbelievers.
For instance, look at your neighbors. In my apartment complex, the woman below me struggles with mental health issues. The elderly veteran across the street is trying to raise his grandsons, though he can barely walk. The couple a few doors down from me has domestic violence issues. And the manager of my complex is a gay rights activist.
My guess is, unless you live at a convent, your neighbors have similar issues going on. These are the people in the lane next to us, yet we so often ignore them as they spiritually drown.
We know that Jesus said, “Love your neighbor,” but it’s easier to think of that in metaphorical terms. We think of our “neighbor” as the starving child in Africa, not the little boy who annoyingly leaves his bike in our driveway. We would much rather talk about missions in our church small groups — or even go across the ocean — than walk next door. Why?
I think much of this is due to two prevalent lies Satan gets us to believe:
1. “I am too busy.” We think that our schedules, which are often filled with good things such as Bible study, work, church, and church friends, are more important than reaching out to someone who doesn’t fit the mold of our “usual” crowd. But the knowledge that our neighbors are going to spend eternity without God, should make us care. Charles Spurgeon said:
If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about the knees imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned or unprayed for.
2. “Someone else will talk to them.” Like the swimmer who assumed the lifeguard would come to save the drowning man, we often think that God will send someone else to talk to our neighbors — and He very well could. But what if God has ordained for you to be in your exact house with your exact neighbors for such a time as this? What if God, in His great mercy, wanted to use you to bring your neighbor to Himself? Why would you ever pass up that chance?
Don’t get me wrong. I have been guilty of using these excuses many times. But recently God has been showing me that it’s not that hard to get out of your lane to help those in the lanes beside you. These past few months, I’ve been able to have dinner with some of my neighbors, take them cookies, and have conversations on the sidewalk. And I’ve discovered that they are normal people who need community and are interested in hearing about my faith.
Jesus opened his eyes to the hurting around him as he went — the woman at the well, Zacchaeus the tax collector and so many more. As we go through our routines, may we open our eyes to see the people around us — especially our neighbors.
Ashley Mazelin is a publicist at Focus on the Family. She originally hails from northern Indiana and graduated from Grace College with a degree in Journalism in 2013. In her free time she likes drinking coffee, exploring the Rocky Mountains and reading interesting books.