Loving your Neighbor

An excerpt from my book, Love Isn’t Selfish about loving your neighbor

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“I encourage you now, reader, to stop and think of the neighbors in your life. Start with those who typically come to mind. Your first thought is probably your next door neighbor. Does your neighbor keep the radio up too loud? Or maybe the neighbor’s dog keeps getting into your trash and they refuse to keep it chained or fenced. Maybe, they’re just hateful and criticize seemingly everything you do. How do Jesus’ words apply? Your neighbor doesn’t have to be likable to be lovable, right?

Now think about other neighbors in your life. Think of your coworkers, employees, or bosses; are they your neighbors? Yes. The cashier at the grocery store is your neighbor, too; as is your hair stylist, doctor, dentist, dog walker, postal carrier, coffee shop barista, baby sitter, fellow shoppers, banker, insurance salesman, bookstore clerk, the stranger in the next car over… Get the idea? At any moment in time, one of these neighbors could be having a distracted or self-absorbed moment and do something that may hurt your feelings or offend you in some way. You may experience this when someone cuts you off while you’re driving to work, if your boss is grumpy, if the barista is less-than-cheery, or if your hair stylist says, “Oops, I forgot you didn’t want that cut short.”

What matters is how you respond. When looking at the responses to a situation, it is important to look at what you think about the situation, as well as the emotions at are elicited by those thoughts. For example, as a youth pastor, I once gave each member of the youth group a little slip of paper. Half of the notes said, “To give a penny to someone means that you think they are valuable and special.” The other half of the notes said, “To give a penny to someone means that you think they aren’t worth a cent.” Each teen was then given a penny and asked to discuss what emotions were experienced as a result. Of course, the responses were mixed. The teens who believed the gesture to mean they had no value reported feeling hurt and discouraged. The ones who believed the penny to signify that they were valuable and special reported that receiving the penny was a positive, encouraging experience.

Often, as we function in society with other fallible humans, we encounter events in which interpretation dictates response. If someone at work avoids eye contact and gives very curt replies, it would be easy to believe that the coworker was trying to avoid talking for some reason or was angry about something. This, in turn, may result in negative feelings such as rejection, irritation, frustration, or indignation. In turn, these emotions may lead to inappropriate, self-centered behaviors if they are not held in check.

How many arguments or feuds have begun by such an incident? To think of possible motivations for the coworker’s behavior, it could be considered that she had an argument with her spouse that morning and was overly distracted from current conversation, or perhaps she was merely feeling rushed and trying to focus on what she was doing. There are many possibilities, but in all of them, it’s easy to see how assumptions and emotions may play a part in our relationships with others – especially neighbors with whom we are not intimately familiar.

Emotions are part of being human. We all have them, and they play a big part in our interactions with one another. Earlier, we discussed how we were designed to be relational beings. Emotions serve as a way for people to connect. They help in relationship building as well as self-preservation. It is vitally important to learn how to manage emotions so they serve to benefit relationships rather than end them.”



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