This is one of the very first things I remember learning growing up in the Baptist church, it went hand in hand with the words to Jesus Loves Me. It is an easy thing to comprehend, it is an easy thing to learn by rote, it is an easy thing to give lip service to, however when the rubber meets the road it is not always an easy thing to do. We all know that God is not instructing us to love just the person who lives next door but that the word “neighbor” encompasses a much broader spectrum of people. I struggle with this. It is easy for me to love the people who are good to me, it is easy for me to love the people I deeply care about but it is also easy for me to write off all the people who irk me or who cross me.
Those of you who know me personally know I have a wicked hateful temper that sometimes gets the better of me (for those of you who do not know me personally I will readily admit this fact). At one point in my life I thought it was cute, a defining characteristic. Now, more often than not, it is an annoying trait I wish I had better learned to control at a much younger age. As I stood in my driveway last night literally fighting with my neighbor over the stupid triangle of land where we sit our garbage cans I realized just how idiotic I must look and sound and for once I had the wherewithal to momentarily step back and realize what I must be doing to my testimony.
I stood there, caught in the moment, and realized that I was viciously breaking the simplest instruction of God’s: to love your neighbor as yourself. After I made a complete imbecile of myself, stomped back into the house to get the deed and the map of our property, drug Fred into the whole mess and stomped back to their house I stepped on their porch and realized just how far away from God I was probably pushing them. Now do I think I am personally responsible for someone else’s relationship with God? No. Do I think that I am possibly (more frequently than I would like) a stumbling block to others? Yes.
Had I judged these people from the moment they moved in? Yes. Had I talked about them without ever talking to them? Yes. Had I been rude and uncommunicative? Absolutely. Am I completely ashamed of my behavior? Most certainly. It started with silly stuff. Their vehicle would be hanging partially in my driveway, not really obstructing our entrance but just annoy me or someone would move our trash can. Just little things that really have no bearing on the larger scheme of life and that most people would and should shrug off. Instead, I compiled them like a black list of sins, storing them up in my brain and holding them against my neighbor without ever talking to them or trying to amicably resolve anything. I bore a grudge like a piece of clothing, wielding it like the amour of righteous indignation. I had unwittingly and unconsciously become a nasty little neighborhood curmudgeon, shame on me.
You know if my Sunday school kids treated each other the way I had treated my actual physical neighbor I would have chewed their ear off with a scathing lecture. If Sarah treated a classmate that way I would have grounded her. I could not see the error of my own ways because I was standing smack dab in the middle of my slow boiling anger. I shudder to think the damage I have done and the poison I have spread by breaking this elementary commandment.
I am happy (and abashed) to say that as I was immediately convicted I promptly apologized for being hateful and nasty and for getting off on the wrong foot. I tried to explain where it began for me and how I had ended up in my present state of mind. I felt even worse as my neighbors began to explain how they felt unwelcome by the whole neighborhood and how it had been a constant struggle since they had moved in. I feel terrible. I think about not only what a horrible testimony I have with them but I consider what an example I set for Sarah and I am deeply sorrowful and ashamed.
I write these things this morning, not as a form of self-flagellation or as a way to say “oh look at me how righteous I am now that I’ve seen the error of my way” instead I write in hopes of deterring others from making the same mistakes. I write to show that I am human and although my blogs are usually thought out tales of how we are trying to make our small corner of the world better, that indeed we are not perfect, that we often make mistakes and sometimes we poison the well. We may be able to keep our physical trash out of the landfill but if we cannot keep out emotional trash out of our neighbors’ lives then what good have we really accomplished. I write also as a reminder to myself, to be kind to people and not just the environment. I write because if I really want the God-centered life I profess then I cannot put a giant barrier there by being cruel to his favorite creation.
Do I think that this epiphany will somehow save me from every getting angry again? No, I am only human. I am sure that I will get mad, that I will yell, that at some future date I with further embarrass myself. What I hope is that I will never again be deliberately mean to my neighbors. That I will stop and think and let the little and petty things go instead of harboring them like emotional poison ivy. Whether they be my actual physical neighbors or the people I see on the streets or the people I do business with in the world. I hope to be kind. I hope to be a good example to my child and to the people I come into contact with every day.
I have already apologized to my neighbor and asked God to forgive me and make me a better neighbor but I want to also take this opportunity to apologize to all of you. I am sorry for any bad example that I have set and for any seed of doubt that I planted. Please realize when you read this blog or look at me that I am human and flawed but I am trying everyday to be better. Like our move towards greener life our spiritual growth is also sometimes a bumbling and awkward path full of ruts and mistakes but we are learning and we hope to never stop growing into better people.
Thank you for reading,