I struggle with the literal part of Scripture’s command to love my neighbor. Partly it’s because I don’t know where to start; I don’t like small talk and I don’t even like talking to the person next to me on the airplane. And I often don’t have a reason to run into my neighbors naturally, like gardening or going for a jog. I like the idea of my actual neighbors being part of my community, but I’m at a loss when it comes to making that happen by building a relationship with each one.
I have, however, discovered the secret to striking up conversations with strangers. It comes in the form of Huckleberry, a 16-pound German Shepherd puppy. Since becoming a puppy mom to Huck, I’ve starting taking him for a walk every morning and evening. Before getting Huck, I knew only two neighbors — the ladies who lived on either side of us. But now that I’m taking daily walks with the most adorable puppy in the world, everyone is eager to stop and pet Huck.
Puppies, much like babies, provide the perfect opportunity to talk to strangers. Most people ask what type of dog he is, how big he’ll get, or how old he is. It hasn’t been uncomfortable or awkward to meet my neighbors and become friendly with them. With a puppy, it’s much easier to build relationships with the people God has called me to love in my neighborhood.
Huck has received two invitations for play dates with other puppies, and one nice neighbor lady even gave him a present: a deer antler to chew on. We’re only a few weeks into puppy ownership, but Huck and I are well on our way to actually getting to know our neighbors beyond a mere friendly wave when we drive by.
Maybe someday that will lead to an opportunity to pray with one of them or invite them to a church event, but even if I don’t magically become an evangelist, I’m learning how to love people by simply getting to know them. My deepest desire is that they will see Christ in me.
Exchanging a few questions during a conversation, learning more about other people, and believing them to be deeply loved by the same God that loves you makes it pretty easy to start building relationships. Often we complicate the two most important commands in Scripture — love God, love others. Loving people can be much easier than we think, and sometimes all you need is a puppy.