Jun 21, 2016

The Ninth Commandment: Being a Good Neighbor

By Cheryl Magness

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

As Lutheran Christians we tend to define “neighbors” in a very broad sense as those we are called to serve while carrying out our various vocations. But this past year I have developed a greater appreciation for the more common definition of neighbor as someone who lives near me.  

Over the course of almost 30 years of marriage, my husband and I have lived in 10 different residences, seven of which we rented and three of which we bought. We purchased and moved into our current home only about six months ago, and since then we have met and interacted with more neighbors than in any other place we have ever lived. 

Shortly after we moved in, several people stopped by to drop off baked goods and provide their phone number in case we needed anything. When my mom fell six weeks later and I called for an ambulance, a gentleman a few houses down came over within minutes to see what was wrong. Recently, when our new riding lawn mower broke, that same gentleman offered to lend us his. (And when we accidentally drove his mower into a small sinkhole in our yard, causing minor damage, yet another neighbor lent his!) We have been given fresh-caught fish, invited to pick produce at will from a garden that is not ours, and told we can dump yard waste into someone else’s burn pile. Perhaps best of all, my 12-year-old son has more playmates than he has ever had. He roams freely and I don't worry. And I am not a free range parent! But there is something about this neighborhood that feels safe. It is different from any other place we have lived, including the house we owned in Illinois for 13 years. Why is that?

A few possible reasons come to mind. It could be, in part, the difference between living in the Chicago suburbs vs. living in northeast Oklahoma. But even though I am from Texas, I have always resisted the claim that Southerners are friendlier than Northerners. We met many warm, wonderful people in Illinois. Still, maybe there is something cultural going on.

Or it could be that the neighborhood we now live in does not have many renters. I know that when we have rented rather than owned we have been less inclined to make friends because we were not planning on staying long-term.

Perhaps it's a matter of logistics. The last house we owned didn't have a great setup for sitting outside, so we rarely did. In our current house we have a wonderful back porch and a large, unfenced lot. When we sit on the porch or play or work in the yard we frequently encounter our neighbors and talk to them.

But as much as I think all of these may have something to do with our positive experience in this neighborhood, I think there is one more reason. My husband and I are in our early fifties now. Our pace of living seems to have finally slowed down a bit. We are still busy, but it is different from the sort of busy-ness we experienced in our thirties and forties as we cared for young children and an aging parent and worked our proverbial rears off trying to make ends meet. Looking back, I realize that for years I was in survival mode. It took everything I had just to be wife, mother, daughter, employee, church member and homemaker. And I was supposed to add being a good neighbor to that mix? Seriously? Who had the time?

And yet in the last few months I have felt our life opening up to make room for the blessing of neighbors. Since moving into this house we have invited a couple of them to church (no takers yet, but we haven’t given up.) On Christmas Day we went caroling on our street as a family. We were glad, when our lawn mower came back from the repair shop, to be able to lend it to the neighbor who previously lent us his. I have gotten used to seeing 5-6 boys playing baseball in my back yard or video games on my couch after raiding my refrigerator for string cheese and popsicles. I have also gotten used to exchanging waves with my next door neighbor as we wash dishes at our respective kitchen windows. Maybe some day instead of sharing a wave we'll share a cup of coffee. 

There was a time that the thought of lending or borrowing valuable equipment to or from a neighbor would have given me pause. (What if something gets broken?) Or that I would have been annoyed at regularly providing snacks for the equivalent of a basketball team. (We can't afford that!) Or that I would have hesitated at the thought of knocking unannounced at someone’s door. (Don't want to be a bother!) Or that I would have shied away from inviting a neighbor to church. (That seems so pushy.)

In all honesty, I am still hesitating, still struggling. I am an introvert and don't do well approaching and getting to know people. But I give thanks for the ways in which the Lord is inviting me out of my comfort zone, leading me to people whom in the past I would have not had time for, gently teaching me to make the time and in so doing be blessed by them. I am not sure how much our new found connectedness with our neighbors is their doing and how much is ours, but whatever the case, I am thankful for it. It is a welcome addition to my days.

If your neighborhood is not a neighborly one, or if you are not in a phase of life to move beyond the walls of your home and church, it's okay. There are seasons of life, and this may not be your season for buddying up to the people on your block (or in your apartment complex or wherever it is you find yourself). Maybe your plate is simply too full, or maybe your neighbors are uninterested (or worse). Be assured that in your workplace, your pew at church, or your very own kitchen, you are still serving your neighbor. 

But if the opportunity presents itself to get to know that family across the street or to exchange a word with the elderly gentleman on the elevator or the widow next door, consider that in doing so you may end up being blessed far more than you expected. With all the ways our new neighbors have helped us in our physical needs the last few months, I think what I am most thankful for is simply the feeling of having friends so close at hand. May our gracious Lord lead each of us to be open to the opportunities he gives us to serve our neighbors, whoever and wherever they may be, and may He grant us humility to accept the care of those He sends to be good neighbors to us. 

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)


Cheryl is the sister of ten, daughter of two, mother of three, and wife of one. She was an English teacher in a past life but these days freelances as a writer and musician. She blogs at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale and has also been published by The FederalistAmerican ThinkerOnFaith, and Touchstone magazine. Cheryl lives in Oklahoma with her husband, a Lutheran cantor, and their three children.

1 comment:

  1. How nice of you, dear, to use the royal "we" with that sinkhole incident. For the record, let me just state clearly that it was *I*, Phillip Magness, not my dear wife Cheryl, who drove our neighbor's John Deere into a sinkhole. Let me add, too, that our neighbor has been great about it, even joking as to how he brought it on himself by saying, when he handed over his tractor to me, "there isn't anything you can do to this." (!)


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