I wonder if Abraham Lincoln had good neighbors.
Neighbors were probably a big deal when pioneers settled the prairie or unknown heroes staffed the underground railroad. When transportation and communication were difficult (and slow), neighbors had to rely on one another for the proverbial cup of flour — and a lot more.
But now we have cell phones and TV and Wal-Mart when we need something. Our neighbors have become the people we wave to everyday but never really get to know.
For Christians, though, our relationships with our neighbors should be different. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word,” Paul wrote. “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Isn’t it interesting that the Bible talks of loving our neighbor this way? Not a brother or sister. Not a friend. No, it’s our neighbor who we are called to love like we love ourselves.
Neighbors are still a big deal.
When I think of neighbors, I immediately think of those aerial photos of suburban neighborhoods with cookie-cutter identical houses. I imagine in each house a young family dwells, just as similar to the family next door as their houses are similar.
Maybe that is the kind of life we all thought we would have by now (sans cookie-cutter houses). We’d be relaxing on a summer evening with the neighbors while the hamburgers cooked on the grill and the little kids played nearby.
This daydream is probably not where any of us are right now. Our living situations will vary. We might live in a dorm, our parents’ house, our own apartment or a house with a few roommates. For right now, I live in my parents’ house. What can I do to be a good neighbor if where I’m living isn’t even “mine”? How can I be a good neighbor as a single person?
Each of our situations is different, and so our answers to that question will be different, too. With that in mind, here are six ideas to get you started brainstorming.
1. Invite some neighbors over for a meal. Or even just ice cream. If that doesn’t seem like a possibility right now given your specific living situation, take a meal or dessert to someone else. Hospitality isn’t just about inviting someone over. We can communicate welcome to others even while we are on someone else’s turf.
2. Organize a block party. The driveway or the common area of your apartment complex can be a meeting place for neighbors who rarely get a chance to talk to each other.
3. Find specific and unique ways to serve your neighbors. Have you noticed someone hasn’t brought in their mail recently or cut their grass? Offer to do it for them. What do they need?
4. Invite your neighbors to a church activity. All of our hospitable intentions have the same goal — to welcome others into a relationship with God.
5. Pray for your neighbors. We don’t know their needs or their struggles. We don’t know why God has planned for us to be their neighbors. There might be bigger problems than we can imagine when we see their neatly-cut grass or cute door decoration. As we pray for them, we invite God to continue working in their lives — and in ours.
6. Be available. Go on a walk through the common area. Be where your neighbors are and begin a conversation with them. Just say hi. It may be simple, but deeper things won’t come until we take this first step.
It’s important to note that, for those of us who live with roommates or family members, our closest neighbors are those who live at the same mailing address. As we work to welcome the neighbors in our lives, let’s remember to care for and love those closest to us.
“God never gets the address wrong,” Rosaria Butterfield reminded me in her recent book, “The Gospel Comes With a House Key.” No matter who your neighbors are or where you are in life, God chose your specific neighbors for you right now.
It’s no mistake. You are neighbors for a reason, and only for a short while, really. So make the most of it and love the people around you like Jesus loves us.
What’s your living situation? How can you show love to your neighbors?