As very social people, my wife and I truly enjoy trying to get to know the people around us, and it's not uncommon for our kids to barge right on in someone else's home without even thinking about it (although we do tell them to at least knock first). We love having neighbors and being able to share life with them.
Except for when we didn't.
A few years ago a new family moved into our neighborhood and immediately our radar tracked them down. Where were they from (that way we could have an instant conversation starter)? Did they have kids close to the ages of ours? Were they outgoing or interested in spiritual things? All of these questions and more were on our minds except for one: Will we get along with them? We didn't even think that because, well, we get along with everybody!
Let me cut to the chase here. Things did not go smoothly with our new neighbors. It wasn't so much that we had little in common with them or had completely different backgrounds and world views than they did, which was true. What really strained any potential relationship was that their kids didn't play well with our kids. This may sound trivial at first, but when their kids started saying bad things about our kids started sharing negative things with us about their kids, the protective mode kicked in and we found it hard to be objective, especially when what our kids were telling us appeared to be true. Bottom line: It was hard for us to like, much less love, our neighbors.
As followers of Jesus, this put us in a pickle. After all, in Matthew 22:38 Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. That meant that in spite of what I perceived was going on down the street, I needed to be committed to love them anyway. Yet this was exactly what we struggled most to do. We didn't enjoy their company and I'm pretty sure they weren't too crazy about hanging with us either. We wanted to love them but struggled to know how.
As time would have it, they didn't stay our neighbors that long before moving to another state. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit relieved when their moving truck headed out of town, yet I knew that I had failed on one of the most basic commands that Jesus had ever given. I had failed to love my neighbors as myself.
Let's be real for a minute. Many of us prefer to tolerate other people as opposed to truly seeking to love them. But tolerance isn't love. Love is love. And I don't know about you, but I've never tolerated anyone into a relationship with Jesus. It simply doesn't work that way.
After realizing the error in my perspective on loving my neighbor, I also came to the realization that loving others is a whole lot harder than I was willing to admit. Yes, I have traveled all over the world and loved on complete strangers, yet I had missed out on the greatest mission field I could possibly find: My own backyard.
If you or I can't love our neighbors then we can't really love God either. Loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength is irrevocably connected to loving other people. You can't do one without the other, for if you truly love God then you will find a way to love your neighbor.
I've learned my lesson. Bring on the next moving van.