How to Love Your Neighbor in an Epidemic of Loneliness
"’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"…"And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:27, 29b)
To answer that, you may have to get to know them first! We know of one need we all have, but in order to introduce the Answer to all of life, we may have to reach other needs first, which involves the harder work of relationship building. With the upcoming “Nite-2-Unite” done on August 2nd (National Night Out), we have another opportunity to reach those who might not otherwise come to our church property. There was already a crisis of loneliness brought upon the “developed world” by the explosion of social media and cellular technology, and it became a recognized epidemic with the proliferation of lock-downs and mask-wearing. Many nations have it far worse than we do in the US, such as in certain Chinese cities were residents are still confined to their apartments except for special exceptions.
We were made for meaningful, face-to-face connections, and as I write, I am well aware, and embarrassed, that I struggle and fail at making connections with my neighbors. I would much rather putz around my yard, knowing that my introvert needs are plentifully met with my church, family, and other connections. Not only do I fail to see the real needs right around me, like a neighbor who passed away from cancer, leading her 3 boys to move away from us, but I fail to live out my calling and command from Jesus written above. It is all too easy for me to drive past my neighbors into the garage and shut the door without so much as a wave. It’s all too easy to keep our conversations brief and superficial. I like my privacy fence and letting my kids to the bulk of the friendship-making! Building trust and showing hospitality is quickly becoming a lost art, if it were not for your examples!
I heard one man’s testimony, after he was greeted by a pastor at his home, saying, “You’re the first person in 20 years who has come over and shaken my hand!”. Something has happened – a distrust of one another has crept up and snatched up our very ability to connect with one another.
What does Jesus mean when He tells us to “Love your neighbor”? Does He really mean that? What has happened to the profound, counter-cultural, loving hospitality that Christians were known for (even towards enemies in times of persecution), so that polls today tell us that people would rather look to and trust the government over churches? The perception of Christianity is currently bleak in our land! What are we to be known for if not our love for neighbor?!
According to Christian history, Christianity grew by leaps and bounds when they were known for their sacrificial love, even in a 300-year period when it was outlawed! (An in-depth read on that here: The Patient Ferment of the Early Church) As it’s been said, “the entire world is a stage, and everyone is looking to see how Christians will respond to persecution”. Would it actually be possible for you to “love your enemies”, as Jesus commanded?
Lots of research has shown how the world has drastically changed since WWII to make neighborhoods less interactive. But what has this new era of “Post-Christendom” changed the way you think about loving your neighbor? Because things have been changing so quickly, perhaps our natural reactions to all this have been more of fear, than of faith…serving to close us off from community? The apostle Peter writes to a community just beginning to experience persecution, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered…” (1 Peter 1:1) He ‘s saying, “you’re elect exiles”.
They were scattered, and strangers, but chosen, for a mission, while in these far-away places! (Read 1 Peter 2 to see just how to live as these special people.) Acts 17:26 tells us, “he (God) determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” We’ve been placed here for a reason! Lights were meant to shine! Salt is meant to bring flavor, and preserve! Now right or wrong, society’s perception of “Christians” (in the US) is pretty dismal. Part of it could be due to their own skewed values which runs counter to God’s Law, but other parts may be pretty valid! Do they see “Christ in me, the hope of glory”? (Colossians 1:27) Part of me they won’t like, automatically, because of Jesus’ explanation: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
However, on the flip side, do they see humility, generosity, patience, and forgiveness coming from me? Am I blind to, or working on my heart issues? Do I take God’s Word seriously? Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Do I pursue the common good around me? The Church in key moments was known for such things, including staying during deadly pandemics, and ministering to the lost and sick. They were taking in unwanted babies that were thrown into the street, to the shame of their pagan neighbors. That’s true hospitality! (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9)
Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Why not start in little ways? Going against the flesh, and walking over to that neighbor across the street with a smile and a handshake? Volunteering to help in neighborhood activities, and cleaning up garbage. Invite them over for a simple meal! You can hardly love people you don’t know. Who has God impressed upon your heart to reach & love?