From the desk of Andrew Burchett...
When Jesus offers us “life to the fullest” in John 10:10, one of the things He is thinking about is our relationship with our neighbors. Your neighbor can be the person in the next cubicle over at work, the mechanic in the shop next door, the gal who serves you coffee most mornings at the coffee shop, or the secretary at your child’s school.
In Luke 10:27 Jesus commands us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What does it look like to love your actual neighbor? There are thousands of ways that we can love, care for, listen to and serve the people who live within a stone’s throw of our front door. Many of the ways we can reach out to our neighbors require us spending at least a few minutes in our front yards, where we will see them and have opportunities to connect.
This past Sunday I arrived home from lunch and decided to work on my birch wood tea light holders (one of my hobbies). I was going to set up my sawhorses and equipment in the backyard, and there was a small twinge in my heart that said, “Set up in the front yard.” I’ve learned to pay attention that sort of tug on my heart, and decided I would set up on the driveway.
I put my headphones on with the baseball game, started running the saw and the press and trying to figure out what branches I could transform. Complete with safety glasses, a V neck t-shirt, sweat dripping down my face and soon covered in fine, yellow sawdust, let me tell you, I was a vision to behold!
In the middle of my project I noticed my neighbor had come out of her house and I thought I would just say hello (so I wasn’t being rude and ignoring her). I pulled the headphones off and made a joke about how dressed up I was and playfully teased her about needing to water the flowers. As I skipped up to her, I noticed that she didn’t really seem like she was interested in talking. Just as I was about to turn around and walk away, I noticed that she was shaking. So I decided to use the magic line of all ministry… “Are you okay?”
Upon hearing the question, she paused, which told me everything I needed to know. Then I looked for other clues, like the rash on her neck that is often produced by anxiety. I had already noticed her hands were shaky, and the little wrinkles in her forehead were telling me that there was something she couldn’t figure out, no matter how hard she had tried.
She answered and said, “Some really awful things just happened to me yesterday.” I didn’t hesitate and offered, “Would it help to tell me about it? I’m good at listening.” The neighbor lady said, “Let me finish watering, then I’ll be over in a minute.”
Then I started praying. I prayed quietly as I used a loud saw. I prayed for her and for wisdom for me, and the strength to keep my mouth shut and to be able to listen well.
A few minutes later, she and I were standing in the shade, and she was telling me about a difficult situation she is going through. I kept asking questions and affirmed the fact that what she was going through was not easy. I didn’t have any good solutions, I didn’t offer advice, I’m sure I didn’t look smart (especially with sawdust all over me). At the end her story I simply asked, “Can I pray for you?” She said, “That would be great,” and thanked me as we walked toward her house.
In my mind, she would know to just bow her head and I would launch in and pray for her with my hand on her shoulder… but she kept walking away from me. Then I realized I need to be clearer. I said, “Let’s stop and why don’t I pray for you right now.”
So, right there in the driveway, I prayed with my hand on her shoulder, and she stood there, with her head bowed, weeping. God was giving her great peace in the midst of her storm. I didn’t pray long, but I did ask her if she wanted to come over for tacos that evening. She said she wasn’t sure if she would… but at dinner time, she arrived at the door.
We talked and visited over tacos and she left more encouraged than when she arrived. I couldn’t solve her problems, but I will continue to love her and pray for her situation.
The question “Are you okay?” worked pretty well this time because the Holy Spirit was doing the work. The conversation never would have happened, however, if I had done my wood working in the backyard.
I want to encourage you to look for opportunities to connect with your actual neighbors and look for occasions to ask simple questions. You might be shocked to see how God uses not-so-chance encounters to love your neighbors.