I can usually remember where I am when something is said that greatly influences me because I will stop and write it down.
I was in St. Louis, in a class on a Sunday morning. There was nothing new or outstanding about the class. The teacher had just read Mark 12:28-31.
“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
I had read these verses many times and had thought about the meaning of loving God and loving people. And, in my pride (isn’t this often the case), I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new that day.
But then, the teacher asked a question that was so simple and clear that I wrote it down. “Who is your closest neighbor?” He waited a few calculated seconds, just long enough for me to wonder where he was going with the question, and then he provided his own answer. “My closest neighbor sleeps right beside me. And my next closest neighbors sleep just down the hall from me.” I continued to write as my mind was filled with new thoughts and implications.
Suddenly, loving and serving my “neighbor” was no longer an interesting theological discussion or even a complicated global missionary strategy. No, it suddenly became highly personal, intensely practical and crystal clear. I knew exactly were to begin.
Our closest neighbors are those living under our roof, or those who brought us into the world and gave us a home. And guess what? These “closest neighbors” can be the most difficult ones to love and serve. We know their faults all too well, and they know our faults. How sad, that the ones we know the best are the ones we are most likely to take for granted.
And so I would like to suggest an idea. Determine to put your closest neighbors at the top of your list of people to love and serve. In one sense, they can be the easiest to serve because you know them so well. You know their hurts, their needs, their fears, their temptations and their weaknesses. In fact, no other person is better suited to offer them the kind of help and service that you can offer. And, they are right there, all the time, close enough to touch. Here are a few places to start your thinking:
- Each day, as you arrive back home, determine that you are not “off” but “on” duty for your family.
- Give them daily affirmation, hugs and praise.
- Ask questions about the day and listen without offering advice.
- Call your parents and ask them what they did today.
- Take your turn with the household duties.
- Take a walk through the neighborhood with your spouse to talk and reconnect.
- Sit in silence with that “closest neighbor” who may be hurting. Let your presence communicate your love.
- Pray with your family on a daily basis.
One day, when our children were small, as I was reading the story of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, I noticed once again that between the two events there is this message from God. Mark makes it a highly personal family message, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (1:11). It occurred to me that Jesus had just made a decision to go to the cross (baptism) and Satan had just made a decision to stop him (temptation), and so God plants this wonderful message of love, confidence and affirmation right in the middle of it all.
I determined right then that if Jesus needed this message, then my closest neighbors, my wife and children, needed it as well. From that point on, each time I tucked David into bed I gave him some form of: “David, you are my son, I love you very much and I’m so very proud of you.” And then, I entered Jessica’s room, knelt beside her bed and gave her the same message. I did this every day until “tucking in” matured into a phone call of encouragement or a text or email of confidence. My son is now married and my daughter is thinking about it, but they will always be my closest neighbors. Along with Pam I will always feel a deep sense of “you are my wife/son/daughter, I love you very much and I’m so very proud of what you are becoming.”
Jesus was only asked one question, “What is the greatest commandment,” but he in essence said, “I can’t give you only one answer. I have to give you two answers because loving God always involves loving your neighbors.”
So, how do we love and serve our neighbors? Let’s begin with our closest neighbors and what God teaches us there will help us move out through the circles of relatives, friends, work associates and strangers.