Jesus said we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen to that! No argument here. But I do have a question: How? How, really, can we love our neighbors? How can we love our neighbors in ways that will actually feeling loving to them? How can we tangibly love the neighbors who live across the street, or whose office is next to ours at work, or who regularly wait on us at the local diner?
I started thinking about these questions yesterday over dinner with my friend Jerry. Jerry is a pastor of a church that, in my estimation, is doing well. But Jerry’s not satisfied with people who do a fairly good job loving each other. He wants them to love their neighbors, their real neighbors, the people they live, work, and play with. Jerry is embarking on a multi-year study that involves, among other things, getting his people to listen to their neighbors, to feel empathy for them, and to experiment with tangible actions of love. I applaud Jerry for this effort. If only more churches were focusing less on their own internal issues and more on loving their neighbors!
As I was thinking about how I might love my neighbors, an image came quickly to mind. I pictured a house on a street near where I live, a street along which I regularly walk my dog. I don’t know who lives in this house. But I do know that they have an amazing garden in front of their house. Their garden has gladdened my heart maybe a hundred times throughout the last few years. I’ll include a photo of the house and garden that I took this morning. You’ll see why I enjoy it so much.
Now, of course not everyone has talent for gardening or evening a front yard. Gifts and situations will differ. But, I am convinced that one way we can love our neighbors is by adding beauty to their world. Some will do this through works of art. Others will do this through skilled craftsmanship. Others will use their financial resources to pay artists, craftspeople, and gardeners to do the good work for which they are gifted.
Of course there are many, many more ways to love our neighbors. But one way, a way that we might easily overlook, is by adding beauty to our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, and cities, beauty that is placed so that it can be shared with our neighbors.