Love your neighbor as yourself. ~Mark 12:31
It’s been a really heavy couple of weeks for my family and for the world, and I am just feeling every bit of it.
I’ve been meditating on what it really means to love your neighbor.
C. S. Lewis said,“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”I was listening to some teaching this weekend and the pastor talked about how Jesus is waiting. He is inside your neighbor waiting to be loved by you.
Mostly Jesus is loving us, but I love the thought that Christ is in the other person, and what you do other people is what you do to Him. That image would probably save me from a lot of heartache and tears. Honestly that’s probably all we need to say about it.
I want you to think about the person that you’ve been fighting with this week on social media, or who you’ve been thinking to yourself, that person is doing it wrong, that person is not showing up right. You might even give them a name, that person is this or that, but I want you to really imagine that person is where Jesus resides.
How I treat them, and think about them, and love them, or don’t love them is how I treat Him.
I want to tell you a little story from my own childhood, because I feel like stories are where we connect. Stories are where we have so much in common. There’s obviously so much that divides us as people, but people can argue with your politics, and they can argue with your theology, and they can argue with your dogma, but people can’t really argue with your story.
My mama had been in beauty school, and when she finally got her license, I started going to nursery school. My life at that point, honestly, was crazy.
The first day that I ever got dropped off to nursery school, the first person I met on the playground was Leticia. And she and I became fast friends. We went to school together, all through elementary school, all through middle school, and all through high school. We became best friends.
We cheered together in high school. We were on all the same committees together. She was so smart. She was so good at cheerleading, she could do a toe touch like nobody’s business! All through those years she was one of my dearest friends. I never thought of her as my black friend, I just thought of her as my dear friend who was amazing.
I had so much of my own turmoil in my own life that I was just thankful she wasn’t judging me because I was poor, or because my daddy wasn’t around, or because he was an alcoholic, or because he showed up at the ballpark drunk. I was SO thankful.
She just seemed to love me for me. I loved her for her.
After we both went to college, we went our separate ways. She’s a very successful attorney in Knoxville now. When I think about her, I still have so much love, so I messaged her last week and just said I was sorry for everything that was going on,“I love you so much. I’m so grateful for you in my life.” I thanked her for loving me all those years, for just being such a dear, dear friend to me. And she wrote back and she said, “Thank you for leading me to Christ, and for being a good friend to me.”
She told me about what she experienced after high school, and what she experienced even sometimes that I didn’t know about during that time. It made me just love her even more. The way she responded, with so much compassion, was just like I remembered her. Full of love, even though in a lot of ways, she had been mistreated by people who were ignorant or didn’t appreciate how amazing she is.
That whole exchange sent me into a tailspin as I think about what I’ve been taught in the scriptures about loving our neighbor. Literally that person bears the image of God, whoever it is we come across.
Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ~Frederick Buechner
First of all we need to repent. In our church every Sunday we confess,“Lord, I have not loved you with my whole heart, and I have not loved my neighbor as myself.”I think the first step to being a good neighbor is admitting that we’re not good neighbors. Just being honest with God, and honest with ourselves and vulnerable, and saying,“I have not been a good neighbor.”
To confess that we have not been the neighbor that we could be to the people in our lives, who are hurting and who need us, is so freeing because we don’t have to pretend like we’re always doing it right. We can just confess and choose to have a tender heart that is teachable. I want to have a spirit of humility so I can continue to learn.
We also need to receive the love and forgiveness of God. We can’t give out something we don’t have. We have to fully receive the love of Christ, and know we are adored, and we are taken care of, and know that everything we’ve ever needed, he’s already done and finished.
When we live from that place we get to live with reckless abandon, because we know we’re being held. We can say, “There’s the example and I will never do it perfectly,” and then we can rest, receive his perfect love, and acknowledge and honor the image of God in every person we meet.
We need to commit to love as a practice.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things ~1 Corinthians 13:7
BEAR ALL THINGS
Since Tom came to live with us this year we’ve been in play therapy helping him to heal. When we first started going, he was always playing with emergency vehicles. He was pretending like the the house was on fire and somebody got hurt. He was pretending like we were taking the ambulance to the hospital, things like that.
At one point he started bringing me all of these big scary stuffed snakes and crocodiles, and then he brings me a dragon. After he loaded me up and I’m sitting there with my arms full, he goes back to play with normal kid stuff, like Legos.
It was a major breakthrough. Our precious counselor said, “He just needs you to hold the scary things so he can play.” Those words have reverberated in my heart. That’s what it means to bear each other’s burdens.
Can we hold the scary things of other people?
Can we be part of the solution?
Can we bear the burdens of people who are having a hard time bearing their own burdens?
BELIEVES ALL THINGS
Believing all things means we give people the benefit of the doubt. It means believing the best of our neighbor.
Stevie said something at dinner the other night that really hurt and offended me. But I love this man. I know his heart. I know he loves me. To really be a good neighbor to him means to show him loving kindness and not be so easily offended. Being offended is how so much division starts, so believing the best of people brings us back together.
HOPES ALL THINGS
With what has been going on in our world the past three months, I think we’ve all lost hope a time or two. But can we really trust that God is going to take care of us and that His purposes are going to be fulfilled, that He’s going to use this for good? Can we be a source of hope for our neighbor?
ENDURES ALL THINGS
Endure is a military term that means stay strong until the death. This is where I have just had to dig deep the last few days. After I let myself just be broken by it, it does raise up in me this warrior mama spirit.
This is not going to take us out. All this division is not going to win. And letting that warrior rise up in us, so that we can be strong to the end, so that we can endure for the sake of our neighbor, is part of what it means to really love our neighbor.
These ways that we can physically and tangibly love our neighbor will cost us something.
Love always has sacrifice attached to it. So when we think about Christ’s love for us, it always has a sacrificial component. Love is ready to sacrifice its time, its resources, its name, whatever it is, love is always ready to sacrifice. And I just think about that so much when I think about what is happening in my own family and in the world right now.
Another pastor I was listening to talked about the fact that there’s going to be a gap between you and your neighbor. You don’t understand him. He’s not like you. His family is not like yours. He doesn’t believe like you.
You get to choose what goes in the gap.
You get to choose how you think and feel about this person. This is a lot of what I teach in Life Mentoring School. Your ability to love your neighbor has nothing to do with your neighbor. Your ability to love your spouse has nothing to do with your spouse. Your ability to love your children has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with you.
This is a practice that we have to keep practicing. What do I want to think and feel about my neighbor, and how can I practice that on a daily basis? How can I be mindful of them? How can I think on them?
God give us grace to choose love, compassion, and understanding, even for people who aren’t reacting the way we think they should, or showing up the way we think they should. And when we don’t want to show up at all, which is the way I’ve been feeling, let us remember this scripture.
Do not growing weary in doing good. ~Galations 6:9
Christ is in your neighbor. Your neighbor is the image-bearer of God, and how you treat your neighbor is how you treat Christ. It’s the most tangible example that I can give for myself of how I want to show up to the people in my life. That person that is the image-bearer of God, that person that he loves so deeply, that he sacrificed everything for, how will I show up to that neighbor?