How Do We Learn to Love Our Neighbors? A Lesson from my Mother
This article was first published in Contact Magazine: Gordon Conwell’s Ministry Magazine Fall 2017 edition
By age 16, my family had moved a total of nine times. Nine different cities, nine different neighborhoods. A plethora of different neighbors. We always moved to places where we were one of the only people of color. We were ALWAYS the “others,” the “those people;” the “strangers.” I was used to smiling and going out of my way to try and make people comfortable with my “otherness.”
In the sea of names, faces and people that make up my collective memories, one person stands out: Mrs. B. It was the day after one of our many move-ins. I was in the kitchen helping my mother make breakfast when our doorbell rang. I went to answer it and there stood a short older lady. She had a plate of cookies in her hand and a shocked expression on her face. I greeted her and she attempted to fix her face. I called my mom to deal with her and walked away while rolling my eyes. At 14, I knew I wasn’t who she expected to answer the door—not in this neighborhood.
Our welcoming committee wasn’t very happy to see us. I know this because a few minutes later my mother came in with a plate of cookies that she threw in the trashcan. I didn’t ask for an explanation and she didn’t offer one. What she did say was that my siblings and I were not supposed to cut through the neighbor’s yard. That neighbor, Mrs. B, proved to be one of my mother’s “love challenges.” For two years she scowled at my siblings and me when we encountered her. She refused to speak to any of us. In fact, she went out of her way to avoid my parents. Mrs. B was downright nasty.
Two months before we were scheduled to move again Mrs. B collapsed in her driveway. We were rushing out of the house to get to school and because we were late, my mother was going to drive us. My younger sister noticed her falling and my mother rushed over to assist. We called 911 and she was taken to the hospital. After school I asked about Mrs. B and my mother said she’d had a heart attack. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I observed my mother. She asked my dad to mow Mrs. B’s lawn. She visited the hospital and took flowers. She made us pray for Mrs. B before dinner. My sister and I were so confused by my mother’s response. Here was this person who obviously didn’t like us for reasons that we couldn’t fathom. Why were we going out of our way to be kind to her? Eventually we asked my mother. She smiled at us while she was seasoning chicken and simply said, “Because that is what Christians do.”
That is what Christians do. We practice kindness. We pray for people. We perform acts of hospitality. We love our neighbors. Even those neighbors who don’t or won’t love us back. Thank God for mothers, mentors, elders and friends who model this so beautifully. How do we learn to love our neighbors? We practice, we pray, we remember that someone loved us, so we must in turn love others. And then we wake up the next day and do it again. Why? Because that is what Christians do.