Friday, September 5, 2008

To love our neighbors

Trevin Wax asks the question: Do we have time to love our neighbors? He writes:

Living the slower pace of Romanian village life forced me to wrestle with the question: Do we in the United States have time to love our neighbors?

Surely loving your neighbor is more than just being there for them in case something goes wrong or they need help. Loving your neighbor means you’re ready to get to know them.To understand their mindset.To look past their quirks.To love them through their trials.To talk to them about the little events of the day and to confide in them in the big events of the day.

God has created us for more than shallow friendships that boil down to activities and entertainment that rob us of our time together. He wants us to go deep in our relationships with others. To spend time with people, for it is time with people that brings change in life.

I fear that many of our churches have chosen shallow waters over deep waters when it comes to Christian fellowship. Church has become a place for one activity on top of another. Game night, choir practice, youth activities, dramas, movie night, etc. Again, these aren’t bad things!

But here’s the important question: Do our churches foster opportunities to better know and love our neighbors? Or could it be that all our good activities actually hinder us from truly knowing and loving people?

written by Trevin Wax © 2008 Kingdom People blog

I would certainly agree that being too busy stifles our love of neighbor. Busy, overbooked people even have difficulty loving their immediate families! It would follow then that churches that push too many activities at people may actually suck up time and energy better reserved for being available to love our families and neighbors.

Often "community" is conceived as having significant social interaction, but I would like to challenge this by considering the experience of shy folks, the kind of people who need extra Powdermilk Biscuits just to go to a church function.

Introverts tend to weary of too much social interaction and appreciate time alone as a way to recharge. Conversely, extroverts thrive on lots of social engagement and may have difficulty spending time by themselves.

If we think of loving neighbor as depending on significant social engagement, then introverts are at a disadvantage to love neighbor. In this case, it's not just the lack of time that interferes, but also a lack of social energy.

I have trouble, however, accepting the idea that somehow sociable folks are more loving of neighbor than shy folks. It may be the opposite, but really, it is silly to take on such gross generalizations.

Instead, let's look at Jesus' answer to the question of "who is my neighbor?" In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it really does not matter whether the Samaritan was an introvert or extrovert. It matters not whether their relationship was deep or non-existent prior to the attack. What mattered was that he made himself available to the needs of the man who had been beaten and robbed.

I would like to emphasize the word, "available." Perhaps the priest and the Levite who passed by without helping were simply too booked to take the time. They had social engagements that left them unavailable for an unexpected need. I'm sure they had some pity for the man, but they had other things they "had to do."

So I would reframe Trevin's question. It's not that we don't have enough time. God saw fit to create our 24-hour day and commanded us to observe a weekly Sabbath. That ought to be enough time to love neighbor.

I would ask this question. How available am I to respond to the need of a neighbor? This means pulling back from over-involvement. I may need to "unstructure" my time so that I have energy and time in reserve.

There is a Torah prohibition against reaping a field all the way to its edges and corners. Rather a little is to be left for the poor to glean from it. This law is a concrete way to love the stranger, and it holds a basic principle. Our schedules need to leave some edges left over for our neighbor in need. Otherwise we are stealing from our neighbor.

This, of course, is easier said than done, but it does give us a helpful principle to evaluate our commitments. We can ask, does this commitment leave me with enough spare time, energy or flexibility to be available to my neighbor?

Image by Lawrence OP

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