Some months ago, I was greeted by a loud rap on the front door, only to find a sheriff wanting to ask me some questions about one of our neighbors. This neighbor is the trying kind. So, you can imagine the frustration and anger—embarrassment?—that grew up within me when I found this sheriff at the door wanting a bit of my time.
Since then, this neighbor continues to be trying—I’ll spare you the certain ways that they are trying as some could announce who this person is. Yet, I share this story with you because all of us have neighbors like this person that stretch us in ways we would not necessarily ask to be stretched. How come this person can’t be like other neighbors—you know, the ones who bring you cookies, or muffins or are much more easy and encouraging to interact with?
Author Gary Thomas writes that, “to become mature people, we need both kinds of relationships…. It takes God-forged agape love to reach out to someone who spites you, who returns your kindness with hatred, who considers gestures of generosity to be threats, who seems hell-bent on bringing destruction and chaos and division into every moment of his or her life (and your life, too). It takes more than human inclination and natural goodwill to keep relating to someone who purposely offends, revels in creative cruelty, and strikes back with a vengeance. Even if you know that they do so out of woundedness or feelings of insecurity or abandonment, being around them still hurts. It still sucks you dry.
“But in the bottom of the dry creek bed lies spiritual life, the fossil of character formation. If we die to human potential, we can be resurrected to spiritual strength…. God invites [us] to lean on a foreign strength—to go further, to love deeper, and to learn to care in a way that [we] never knew [we] could” (from Sacred Parenting, p. 148-9).
Neighbors, and all of those who we find a bit trying in our lives, are not there for us to fix or hope they’ll leave stage right from the drama that is our lives. Instead, their role is to shape us into seeing places of ourselves that we most likely couldn’t without their presence, places of ourselves that still require fine-tuning, and need the gentle hand of the Father who calls us to live more in the grace that comes from our knowing Jesus. May each of us this week ask for God’s assistance in this endeavor and open His invitation to a deeper walk with Him as a result.