Sunday, April 6, 2014

How to Love Thy Neighbor: Embrace Interruptions

Feeling brave....I boxed up all the snow pants and winter gear today.  If the weather takes a turn, the boys will have to cut through the snow in flip flops!

I sat by my neighbors at church.  It happened by accident.  They had snagged spots in my "turf."  (I was tempted to become territorial, but in the interest of Christian harmony, I held my tongue!)

It was the first time I had seen them in the church sanctuary, although I knew they were members.  This can be explained by the size of our church—large enough to become lost in a sea of faces.

Although we're friendly with many of our neighbors, we've had little contact with this couple throughout the years.  They're friendly enough, but our paths just didn't cross like it has with many of the other neighbors.  Their children are older.  They both hold down busy jobs.  

Yada. Yada. Yada.  

Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  

Excuse. Excuse.  Excuse.

Bottom Line:  We hardly know them.

We hardly know these neighbors.

What we do know is that their son died just a few months ago, on New Year's Eve.  He was in college, much to young to fill a casket.  We went to the memorial service.  I couldn't take my eyes off the neighbor mom.  She was just so very sad.  Her tears sparked a flood of emotion from every mother in the room.  We grieved for her and couldn't possibly imagine enduring even an ounce of her pain.  To stand there making pleasantries, while her child's lifeless body rested inches away, seemed unimaginable.  

Today, three months later, the neighbors and I sat side-by-side in the same space.  We exchanged pleasantries before the lights dimmed and the worship music began.  Although I tried to focus on the band, from the corner of my eye I noticed my neighbor was crying.  

It's interesting that the music unearthed such emotions.  Another friend, who recently went through a tough patch, told me she always cries during the worship time.  I think there's something about worship music that exposes the raw vulnerability of a soul.  It cuts through superficial facades and tears down artificial boundaries.

When the music stopped, the pastor appeared on stage.  He preached on compassion and specifically touched on the story of the Good Samaritan.  The parable was one I've heard many times over the years.  But this time, the pastor dissected the story and provided application.

He said the first thing the Good Samaritan did was stop.  You may ask, why is that important?  It's important because the Good Samaritan had to stop to help.  He wasn't planning on stopping.  Stopping might have been inconvenient, but he did it anyway.  The pastor said, "Interruptions are opportunities for compassion."  And then he went into a discussion on loving your neighbor.  "Your neighbor is the person who needs your help," he announced.

My neighbor was crying again.  She whimpered softly, trying not to attract attention, but with each of her tears I felt a little part of me sting.

God was hitting me over the head.

I knew the pastor was speaking about "neighbors" in a metaphoric sense, but it seemed like no coincidence that I was sitting by my actual neighbors.

For the many years we lived next to each other, why didn't I stop and get to know them?  Because it would have been an interruption.  We were busy and didn't have time to devote to forging relationships or meeting their needs (emotional or otherwise).  We never stopped.

We can't change the past, but we can work on the future.  I vowed to stop.  To make a point to be interrupted.  To always have the time for those in need be they far or even next door.

At the end of service, my neighbor pulled me into a hug.  Her tears were still trickling down her cheeks.  I stopped to hug her back and to exchange words.  

It was a first step.

My first stop.

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