It’s been said that we live in what is simultaneously the most connected society in history and at the same time we are lonelier than ever. (Someone said it here, I’m not making this up.)
My Grandma and I had this conversation recently, that almost all of the information and more than 3 billion people in the world with internet access are accessible to us through the 5-inch screen we carry in our pockets, yet in many ways, these devices are keeping us isolated from one another in tangible, meaningful ways. It’s an interesting situation to say the least.
This is not intended to rail against technology – I love technology! It’s amazing to me, and a good thing, that we’re able to connect with friends and relatives halfway across the globe. That’s not the problem. The problem is that many of us don’t know the names of the people who live next door to us. We don’t know anything about them. We don’t know their stories, their families, their struggles, and for the most part they don’t know ours. If relationships are the fabric of our communities and our neighborhoods, then our communities begin to erode when we don’t build relationships with our neighbors.
In the Gospel of Matthew, someone asks Jesus, “What is the most important commandment.”
Jesus replies: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
For many of us who are followers of Jesus, I think we often assume that “loving our neighbors” entails going somewhere else – going into downtown areas of our cities, or going to do disaster relief work, or going across the globe on a mission trip. These things are all important. But for the past year or so, I’ve been asking myself the question, “What if when Jesus said ‘Love your neighbors’ he meant your actual, literal neighbors?”
What would it look like for us to begin to get to know the people who actually live around us, to begin to build relationships with them, to “love them as ourselves?”
With that in mind, here are five simple ideas to help you get to know your neighbors:
1) Go outside and introduce yourself to them. This seems like a given, but it’s something I often take for granted. I’m great at waving at my neighbors and smiling at my neighbors, but what about taking that a step farther? For the next week, make a concerted effort to be outside during the evening and every time you’re outside and someone walks by your house, simply introduce yourself to them. Find out where they live in the neighborhood. Ask them about their family. Remember their name and call them by name next time you see them.
2) Host a Labor Day (or any other day) cookout for some of your neighbors (or for your street or your neighborhood if you’re feeling really ambitious.) Send out an invitation on Facebook, fire up the grill, and spend some time getting to know some people or families who live around you.
3) Gather people to pray for students as they head back to school. The beginning of school can be a stressful time for students, parents, and teachers. The week school starts, put the word out to your neighborhood that you’re hosting a brief gathering to pray for students and teachers as they prepare to go back to school. Provide some cold water and some snacks, invite people to circle up and pray at a designated time, and then spend some time getting to know the people who show up.
4) Become the “welcome wagon” for new people who move into your neighborhood. Within a 10-minute drive of my house, there are 300 new families moving in every month. That’s a lot of new people who probably don’t know anyone in the area! If you have a Homeowner’s Association, you can volunteer to do this in an official capacity, and if not, just look for moving trucks, bake some cookies, and stop by to introduce yourself.
5) Look for needs and offer to meet them. Has someone in your neighborhood recently had a baby or experienced a loss or gone through a difficult medical procedure? Offer to take them a meal. Have you noticed a neighbor lost some tree limbs in a storm? Offer to help clean up. Is there a single parent with kids who could use some time to run errands without kids? Offer to watch the kids so they can have an evening to do that. As you drive or walk around your neighborhood, or as you scroll through your neighborhood Facebook page, look for needs and think about ways you can love and serve your neighbors.