The primary Christian calling has always been, still is, and will always be the invitation to love our neighbors. It’s one of the two fundamental things Jesus asks of us and is central to a life of faith.
Now, there are lots of ways to think and talk about who our ‘neighbors’ are. But it seems clear to me that, while we are certainly called to love everyone, this neighborly invitation from Jesus should absolutely be applied to those within our geographical proximity. Yes, we are metaphorical neighbors with our brothers and sisters around the globe, but mostly we’re neighbors with those we rub shoulders with on a regular basis. Maybe it’s the house, apartment, cubicle, or desk next door; or local grocery teller or barista; or the person that always begs at the intersection near our home. The people around us are our neighbors.
But loving our actual, proximal neighbors has become increasingly difficult during this time. Our global pandemic has meant masks and physical distancing, which doesn’t help in our quest for neighborly connection. Plus, this time has meant a plethora of extra responsibilities for so many of us—resulting in an existential exhaustion—where we have little time and energy left to give to others. We’re just trying to survive, without the pressure of reaching out and connecting with new people.
I get it. I’m there too. It’s easy (and almost justifiable) to abandon this fundamental Christian calling during this time.
But what if we’re making it too hard? What if we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves and psyching ourselves out of something that shouldn’t be so daunting? What if there were ways we could be sneaky or efficient in how we love our neighbors?
I’m suggesting that, especially now in this time of pandemic exhaustion, we find ways to love and serve others through things we’re already doing. Where are you already going? What are you already spending your time on? What people are you guaranteed to see each day? And are there little, simple ways that you could love the people you are proximate with in your normal day?
I was thinking about this as I ate lunch with Larry Baker recently—where he was telling me about baking bread for his neighbors. He likes to bake and he’s already doing it, so he’s chosen to just bake a little extra as a way to bless the people he lives near. Or I was thinking of this as I recently stood in my neighbor’s entryway for the first time ever—drawn together by the fact that my children adore animals and they have a brand new Pug puppy. So we used the opportunity as a chance to get to know our neighbors a little better than we did before.
It doesn’t have to be huge or complicated. Maybe it’s a smile to a stranger or shoveling a little further down the sidewalk or checking in on the elderly woman on the block or a little bigger tip to the waiter than usual. Trust me, I understand the utter exhaustion and desire to withdraw during this time, but let’s look for little, simple ways to know, love, and bless the people God has placed in our lives.