“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:43-45)
My next door neighbor (to my left) has been less than lovable in the 6 years that we’ve lived in our house. She had this major issue with our trees — silver and sugar maples are soft trees, and they drop a lot of limbs. Before we moved in, our other neighbors (on the right) lost their large sugar maple during a wind storm — it fell across the driveway of the house we now own and crushed the pickup truck sitting in the drive. The owner, fortunately, had just exited his vehicle. So, I can, to some degree, see her concern. Without a trust in our loving Father, she was left to her own devices to protect herself from our trees. So she harassed and harangued us until we had our back tree cut down. You can imagine my horror when a storm was raging outside at 10 pm, and I heard my neighbor screaming like a mad woman, pounding on my door, yelling profanities, all because a small limb grazed her garage roof and took out three shingles. Yeah, it was not a pretty sight. After that, we finally agreed to remove our tree. In hindsight, I can see what she feared might happen with the tree there, but at the time I was deeply wounded by her actions.
Just months later, while I struggled with morning sickness during my first pregnancy, Andrew traveled to China, and I went home to my parents to receive help while he was gone. When I returned, prior to Andrew’s return, and much to my chagrin, the tree in my front yard had likewise been removed. While we were out of town, she called and harassed the city, called in some favors, and had our tree removed. This was the final nail in the coffin. We avoided her as best we could, we put up a fence to allow ourselves some privacy, bought a new tree, and hunkered down to avoid her angry storms in the future.
This was four years ago this past summer. Four years. I have barely spoken to my neighbor in four years. We did have some confrontations where we voiced our reasons for withdrawing from the relationship with her. I calmly and clearly explained that no amount of anger a person might feel, in my mind, ever justified her actions. People simply shouldn’t treat others in that way no matter what. I was so grieved over the loss of our beautiful hundred year old trees. I blamed her for all of it. (And truly, it is her fault.)
But I have come to see over these four years that she truly needs the love of Jesus like no other. It has taken me a long time to come to the point where I can once again feel compassion for her instead of anger. The anger, thank Jesus, did vanish some time ago, but I still felt the need to maintain a safe distance. I would not consider my feelings of the past towards her anywhere near the camp of compassion.
In recent months our town has begun a “love your neighbor” crusade. My friend even wrote a book about loving your neighbor. The message has been blasted in my face as clearly as anything. And I have still felt resistance. I have not wanted to reach out to this woman. She is my neighbor, but I have not wanted to love her, and I, to my own fault, have resisted doing so.
But, a few weeks ago, she had surgery on her eardrum. She’s alone with her teenage daughter (who I am sure is not super helpful), and I felt moved to do something for her. The song that kept running through my head, the one line that says, “It’s your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance.” This is all at a time when the kindness of the Lord is resonating so deeply in my heart (from all the support we have received over Sophie’s need for speech and with my recent health issues). He has been so kind to me. How hard is it for me to be kind to someone else? Well, sometimes very hard. But the urge persisted, and so finally I bit the bullet, summoned my compassion and courage, and took her some muffins and a card. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was somewhat relieved when she didn’t come to the door. But I left my gift on her doorstep.
In the few weeks since I took her that package, I have had more meaningful conversations with my neighbor than I’ve had in four years. It’s been astounding. I never realized the impact that a small kindness of muffins and a card could do for my neighbor. She’s like a dry sponge, soaking in any drop of love that comes her way. I hope that the kindness of the Lord reaches her through our conversations, through my card, the muffins. I hope that in showing kindness to her, she will see the grace of Jesus in my life. Because it’s not about me being the bigger person or doing some great thing or wow, look at what I overcame. No. It’s about the reality that God has shown me so much kindness. I am mandated to give it away.
You see, we were all enemies of God at one point. Yet he loved us. He chose us. He wooed us with his kindness. He is the example of loving your enemy. I must love my enemy because I was the enemy, and he loved me.