"Did you hear he died on Sunday?" My heart sank when I read the text message. A neighbor, gone suddenly and far too soon. A little one left without a daddy. My neighbor, guys. A neighbor I have spoken to but never pursued. The sort of neighbor you exchange casual hellos with but allow an instinctive suspicion and recognition of differences too numerous to count to build up the invisible divide between MY house and YOUR house.
I just finished writing a different post before I learned this tragic news. A post that confessed a lack of vulnerability and transparency on my part. People comment all the time on the ministry I have entered into, saying all sorts of positive, unmerited things about who I am. The truth? I am a mess, saved by the same God who chose to use the likes of David the adulterer and Rahab the prostitute to do the work of redemption. I am on a crazy journey that means I stumble and fall and make mistakes all the time, and hopefully learn a few things in the process. I long to share this journey openly, learning together WITH you what it means to practice the kind of hospitality that Jesus invites us to live out...an open-arms, pull-out-all-the-stops, love of strangers. The kind of hospitality that seeks to build friendships with those who are vastly different than I am. That seeks to KNOW and BE KNOWN, not so we can just slap an easy checkmark next to the "service" box in our hearts and minds, because when I see it as "service," the divide that separates "us" from "them" grows. Relentless, crazy hospitality that remembers that Jesus does not call us to comfort and safety, but to an upside down kingdom where we are to take up our crosses and follow him daily.
In the vein of being vulnerable and transparent, I have to tell you that the news I received today convicted me to the core. I spend so much time trying to "love and serve" others in my community, and yet here is a neighbor--a literal neighbor--I failed to invest in knowing. I encourage people to spend time and resources in opening their homes and lives to strangers, and yet I did not even know--really know--the man who lived next door to me. The whole starting close to home thing? Yeah, missed the mark on that one. Jesus is so gracious with me, but I am so broken over the missed opportunities, the times I chose to lower my head and quickly move about my way instead of engaging. The times I have chosen to stay in my comfy clothes in my cozy, safe little house instead of doing the work of knowing and pursuing the people who live RIGHT NEXT TO ME.
I could easily write it off, but instead I am asking God to work on this lazy, selfish heart. I am sitting in this heart-deep conviction and asking hard questions of myself. Where do I need to adjust my priorities? What does it look like to step out of my comfort zone in my own neighborhood? Do I really care about my neighborhood? If so, does it show?
Today, I am bringing it all back to my street, to the people God has placed right next to me. Sometimes loving your neighbor looks like serving the marginalized on the other side of the world, and sometimes it means building friendships with your literal neighbors. Sometimes it feels easier to "love" those who are on the other side of town, or across oceans. Loving my literal next door neighbor? Well that takes intentionality, and patience, and a day-to-day selflessness that this girl needs to work on.