April 28th, 2021 by Sara Buffington
Did you grow up on Sesame Street like I did? Then perhaps you too know the song:
Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day
It’s an outdated song because we don’t meet the people in our neighborhood each day.
At least I don’t.
I live in Winter Springs Village. It has green spaces, a community pool and mailbox area, and front porches on every house. My family has the smaller sized home—a bungalow—and our houses sits on a zero lot line. That means I can almost reach out and touch my neighbor’s house.
And I still don’t know my neighbors.
We live in an age of looking down at our phones, electric garage door openers, and minding our own business. Gone is the neighborhood economy (“May I borrow X?”) and the front porch leisure while kids play on the sidewalk. With the pandemic, talking to strangers is more than odd—it’s hazardous.
Is this a problem? Not for some, but it is for me.
Because God tells me to love my neighbor.
How can I love my neighbors if I know nothing about them?
I know what you are thinking. “Sara, when Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor, he wasn’t talking about your actual neighbor. He was talking about those around you–those in your life.’”
I am sure that is true, but who is in my life? Pretty much all people who already know God and have a relationship with him. I would really like to expand my circle to loving those who do not have a similar faith and background to me. And I figure I’d start where I am—my actual neighborhood.
I am reading this book entitled B.L.E.S.S. Five Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. It forced me to ask myself these two questions:
Yes, I do. Do you? Then start with me. Get to know your neighbors.
I have begun to get to know my neighbors through some detective work. The book recommends folding a piece of paper into 9 rectangles. Your house is the center rectangle. Then you fill in the other rectangles with the eight houses around you.
My neighborhood isn’t shaped like that. We have a central back alley, which it turns out is a great place to meet your neighbors. Since I have lived here ten years, I figured I’d give myself more than eight (and especially since our houses are so close together I can see these people from my house).
Here is my configuration with my notes:
As you can see, I have plenty of blanks.
I have started praying and asking God to help me meet my neighbors. This has had some varying success. Once I followed a woman and her child down the street asking, “Do you live here?” She nervously said yes and hurried down a side street.
Last week, to my delight, I met a family that moved here a year ago. Yes, you read that right. They have been my neighbors for a whole year and I have just met them. They moved in during the pandemic, and even though I met the woman briefly early on, I couldn’t remember her name and I didn’t know anyone else in the family.
Wouldn’t you know it, after I had been praying for a week to meet people, the whole family was outside grilling and I got to meet them all.
There are still people I have yet to meet. There is a couple with an unruly German shepherd, and they now open the garage door and shut it before they get out of their car. When they first purchased the dog, it got out of the garage a few times and rushed up barking at our kids. It was not the best interchange to begin a neighborly relationship. Now I think they try to keep to themselves.
And then there are a few neighbors whom I have met once upon a time and promptly forgot their names. Now it is too awkward to ask. Do you have any of those?
That is the beauty of the chart. When I learn a name (or relearn it), I can write it down.
Now I write my neighbors’ names in a journal each day and pray for God to bless them: bless them financially, in their family relationships, and at work. I pray he would give them peace and draw them closer to Him.
That is my first step.
When I was young, I was a girl scout. When the annual cookie drive came around, I was filled with dread. Other girls in my troop got loads of orders through their parents. Their parents would bring the order form to work, and their coworkers would buy Samoas, Tagalongs, and Thin Mints by the case.
I asked my parents to do this at their respective jobs, but they refused. They were both managers in their offices, and they didn’t want to put undue pressure on those who worked with them. As an adult, I can respect this. As a child, I was crestfallen.
Something you may not know about me: I hate sales. I hate it. And so I would tote my little red wagon around the neighborhood and knock on strangers’ doors (they don’t do this anymore, I don’t think) and peddle the cookies. I was so miserable during the whole process that I rarely made a sale.
I was the world’s most reluctant girl scout.
I tell you this story because it frames how I feel about sharing my faith: reluctant. I don’t want to “sell” anyone on Jesus.
I am starting to turn my attitude around a bit thanks to Easter eggs.
This past Easter, our church packed eggs to give to our neighbors. I grabbed a few with the intention of giving some to my neighbors. This small act made my stomach do somersaults. I hate imposing on people.
I nervously offered the egg kits to some families in the neighborhood.
Did they slam the door in my face?
Did they even look at me with a cocked eyebrow?
Nope, not one. They were all delighted to receive the eggs. I even had a conversation with a neighbor who explained that her family had not been back to their church since Covid. They had been watching online, and she missed going. It was a real conversation–and not about the weather.
So as I get to know my neighbors, I am praying for more opportunities to interact with them. I am mulling over the idea of organizing a block party this summer (I talked about this with the neighbors I just met last week).
What if, by everyday acts, I show the love of God?
Could that change my neighborhood?
Could it change the world?
Take the challenge with me! Draw a grid for your neighboring houses. Fill in the names you can. Ask God to help you meet the “blanks” on your chart. Start praying for your neighbors and see what happens.
Will you take the challenge? Let me know in the comments below.
Maybe you have already "expanded your circle." How did you do that? Share it!