Charly and I have been intentional about trying to put into practice the challenges of Thomas Thompson's sermon series at Pulpit Rock Church on Good Neighboring. We've asked our neighbors their names and engaged in conversations, we invited the man and his son who live next door over for dinner, and I asked a friendly neighbor who walks her son home from school to help me push our boys up the hill in their wheelchairs when Charly had a meeting and we were short a pair of hands.
When we started renting this house last August we realized that some friends from our small group live on the same street. Before they left last month for a three month overseas trip, they told us about a couple who would be staying in their house while they're gone. This couple was returning from a long-term overseas assignment and relocating to Colorado Springs because of a sharp decline in the wife's health from Parkinson's. I stopped by the house a couple of weeks ago with a bowl of apples and a note welcoming them to the neighborhood.
They had been on my mind since the apple delivery, and on Monday I stopped by for another visit. While I chatted with the wife, I was aware of all that her friend was doing to help around the house. And in our conversation, it came up that her friend was free to come again on Thursday, but she needed to find someone to help on Wednesday. “I'm flexible on Wednesday,” I volunteered, thinking it might be for a few hours...
Two weeks ago Thomas invited his friend Dave Runyon to finish his sermon series on Neighboring. Dave and his friend Jay Pathak are co-authors of an inspiring and practical book called The Art of Neighboring. The chapter on setting boundaries was especially helpful to me and came to mind in this situation of my recognizing a neighbor in need and offering to help. I appreciate their fresh look at the story of the Good Samaritan, through the lens of “giving a hand versus a handout.”
“The Samaritan bandaged up the man, loaded him on his donkey, and took him to an inn where he could recover.
It's important to note that the good Samaritan continued his trip at this point. One could argue that the good Samaritan should have done more, should have stayed and helped the man further. The Samaritan should have brought the beaten man back to his home, canceled the plans for his own trip, and drastically rearranged his schedule.
But that's not how the story goes. He did some incredible things but not everything. He picked the guy up off the road, took him to an inn, and paid for him to be cared for there. And that was as far as he went. The good Samaritan was willing to be inconvenienced but didn't allow this event to change his entire life.”
While I was visiting with the wife Monday afternoon, Charly texted that he was preparing enough food if I wanted to invite the couple over for dinner. She gladly accepted the offer, and after her husband got home from work, they drove down the street to our house They didn't seem bothered by Daniel's direct and often embarrassing questions like “Are you old or young?” We shared stories about what it's been like to transition back to America after living overseas for so long. And how the grieving process has been different for each of us.
After we finished Charly's delicious Chinese food and I served the last six pieces of the birthday apple cake he had made for me, the husband said he'd heard that I was free on Wednesdays. With an “s” on the end. My eyes grew big on the inside as he went on to say that on Wednesday he'd need to leave to be at work by 8 and would be home at 5. I did a quick assessment of my day and no appointments came to mind. So I smiled and said that would work for me.
After they left, and we were stacking dishes in the dishwasher, Charly asked me, “Did you realize you were committing to a whole day?”
“No, I just said that I had some free time on Wednesday. But I think I can make it work this week. My bigger concern is that I think they think I am free on Wednesdays. And I don't want to make a weekly commitment.”
In The Art of Neighboring, the authors address these questions:
“When you set a boundary with a neighbor, it's easy to second-guess yourself. You ask things like:
Have I done enough?
Could I have done more?
Am I doing too much?
Is there something else I should be doing right now?
If you've ever asked yourself questions like these when it comes to good neighboring, you're not alone. We've asked them too. You have to remember what Jesus says. This is the best way to live. When we love God and love our neighbors, we are living the way Jesus intends for us. Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed. We wonder how we ever got ourselves into the situation we're in and we wonder if we've done the right thing.”
I was wondering if I had done the right thing in volunteering to help when I arrived at their house Wednesday morning. I was planning to do my best to serve that day, as well as to make sure that they knew I wasn't free every Wednesday. Maybe I could offer to make phone calls to try to help them find a full-time aide? I was relieved when the husband said that an aide had already been recommended and was coming on Friday to interview. But I still felt that there was a lingering misunderstanding about expectations. When I got home that day after working as a personal assistant and helping with household chores, I had to lay flat on my back on the couch for awhile to recover. And then I crawled into bed at 8:00! Confirmation that this was not a wise weekly commitment for me to make.
“The hardest part about loving others is that you can always do more. You can always give more time, energy, and money to those in need. But you can't be everything to everyone, so stop making yourself feel bad for not doing more.
The challenge is realizing that it's not about what you do, but why you do it and how you do it. At the end of the day, good neighboring must be an exercise in asking God what to do in any given situation. It's about being on our knees in prayer, asking for discernment to help in the situations that we encounter. God doesn't ask us to do everything but he does ask us to do something—which is much better than nothing.”
What lessons have you learned while trying to be a good neighbor?