I have always wanted to start a movement, a revolution. At a PTO meeting last year, I tried. I wanted all the parents at our kid’s school to stop letting their kids play the video game Fortnight. The people in the meeting were complaining about how they felt out of control of their kid’s video game use. This problem felt very simple to me, with a very simple solution. I raised my hand.
“Why don’t we as parents all commit to not allowing our kids to play Fortnight?”
All I got in return was blank stares.
At this point I may not be able to start a movement to rid the world of video games. But I do believe there is something each of us could do, and if we did it, we could change the world.
We could love our neighbors.
And when I say love your neighbor, I am referring to your physical neighbor. The person living next to you, behind you or in front of you. I believe if we all just started with loving our physical neighbors, we could change the world-one neighborhood at a time.
Growing up we knew a few of our neighbors, but not too many. By the time Bryan and I moved into our home, we were fully committed to Christian community. Prior to owning our home, we had been living with a family and experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of fully knowing others – yet still loving them. It wasn’t until we moved into our first house that our passion for community centered around a physical space – our neighborhood.
Right away when we moved in, we met our neighbors Angie and Jeff. They heard we had moved in and quickly came over to introduce themselves. They are a Christian family and are passionate about helping people. Angie invited me over for coffee. As we had coffee that morning, Angie told me about how once she started having kids she realized she couldn’t do as much outside of the home as she used to. So she started to pray that God would bring people to her, to their home. God certainly answered their prayers. I just sat there in awe as she shared stories about the neighborhood and the relationships she had built.
I was in.
At first, I just tagged along with Angie and met our neighbors. I joined her at neighborhood play dates. I curiously watched as she would invite the neighbors over, no matter who they were or where they came from. Surprisingly, most of the time, they came. At any given time there would be 2-3 neighbors in and out of their home.
The passion for my neighborhood continued to grow. There was a small group of us who really started doing life together. We were raising our kids together. We had dinner together almost weekly. We loved each other no matter what. Other people around the neighborhood joined in. Our small pocket of the world began to change. There was a sense of safety and security. We showed up for each other whether it was by bringing a meal or just providing a listening ear.
We were meeting each other’s deepest needs: to be loved and to belong. When people’s needs are met, they are set up to make much better choices, choices that benefit not only them but the world around them. And as much as we like to believe our decisions don’t affect other people, they do. Our decisions have a ripple effect.
Our world is a mess. People are diagnosed with cancer every day. Anxiety manifests itself at younger and younger ages each year. Depression is common place among teenagers. Suicide no longer shocks people. Isolation is the norm. Loneliness is an epidemic. I can almost guarantee you someone on your block is struggling with one of those things.
So what if instead of ignoring them each morning as you get into your car, you said hello? And then over time, you asked their name. And then soon, you invite them into your home and into your life. They begin to feel loved. They are no longer isolated, they experience a sense of belonging. You become a safe place. You feed them. Out of a place of safety, they start making different decisions, healthy decisions. We will never know for sure, but what if a simple hello in the morning changed the trajectory of someone’s life and the lives they intersect with?
Can you even imagine the ripple effect that would happen if we all committed to living like that?
If you know me, you know I am very extroverted and outgoing. Strangers are just friends I have not yet met. I know not everyone shares my personality. I know meeting your neighbors can feel intimidating. I have found people find it easier to spend thousands of dollars to go overseas on a mission trip than to reach out to the person who lives right next to them. Why? Because trips have a start and an end date. They often come with a specific purpose. And honestly, if it’s a bust, you don’t have to see them again. Loving your neighbor is a lifelong commitment. They are going to hear you fight or yell at your kids. They are going to see you in your PJs as you run down the street to catch your dog. They are going to see your kids at their worst and their best. I often say that neighbors are like family. You don’t get to pick them, you may not always like them, but you should learn to love them because they aren’t going anywhere.
You may live in a house, an apartment, or dorm. Whatever the case may be, try a couple of the following tips, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
- First of all, when I engage with new people, I always try to keep a few truths on the forefront of my mind. We are created for community. Our deepest needs are to be loved and to belong. Everyone has those same needs and desires. Most people want those things so badly, but are too scared to take the first step. It’s hard to take the first step. Do.It.
- Pray. Ask God to show you where to start. Loving our neighbors is in line with God’s heart. I promise, if you ask him to show you where to start, he will show you.
- Start with small deposits. Start by befriending a neighbor on social media. Send them a message of why you sent the request, if you don’t it might weird them out. Say hi each day as you leave the house. Introduce yourself. Ask their names and then remember it. Plow their driveway. Mow their lawn. When significant things have happened to our neighbors, we’ve shown up – by writing them a note, checking in with them or even showing up in sad moments like funerals or joyous ones like baby showers. Those small deposits of time opened up doors to much deeper, rich friendships with them.
- Host a gathering. A lot of people may not feel comfortable with dinner at first. Invite a handful of neighbors over. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Host a happy hour. Invite people over for dessert. Some people will not be interested, but most people will welcome the opportunity to at least meet their neighbors.
Halloween is coming up. Halloween is a great opportunity to get to know your neighbors. Everyone is outside going from house to house, usually very cold and yet somewhat relaxed. Last year we had a bonfire in our front yard. We had hot chocolate and cider. We set out chairs. By the end of the night 3 households were handing out candy while sitting in our front yard. Families stopped to get hot chocolate and warm up by the fire. We got to know several new families in the neighborhood. You may not live in a home where you can have a bonfire in the front yard, but you could certainly hand out candy and introduce yourself. Like I said, it starts with small deposits.
Those small deposits matter. They lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships, which lead to feeling loved and a sense of belonging. And when people feel those things, they make better decisions. Decisions that don’t just affect them, they affect us all. They are better and we are better. The pocket of our world begins to change and before you know it we have started a revolution.
One neighborhood at a time.
Thanks Kirstin Tackett and Angie & Jeff House for teaching me what it looks like to live in community. We are all the better because it.