The other night, I was woken by the sound of crying. Standing in sleepy disorientation I couldn’t quite figure out where it was coming from, but I knew it was close. I looked out my windows, and peeped out the little glass panes on my door, but I could see nothing. I was about to go back to bed but heard it once more. I woke up my husband, and when he opened the door to take a look, we discovered a neighbor and her daughter sitting on our front step, crying and cold. I will spare the details of the long night, other than to say that as I sat with this woman, and my husband sat with her husband back at their home, the stories of pain, loss, hopelessness, shame, anger and sadness were absolutely heart wrenching.
Living and loving in the community you reside is messy business. It’s hard, it hurts, it costs. It might not end the way we hope. It’s uncomfortable sometimes. There is beauty, undoubtedly, but there is also a great deal of pain.
In the course of our conversation, the young woman shared that this is not the first time she had sat on our front steps in the night. She needed help, and wanted help, but knocking on the door was just too painful, fearful and shameful for her. Still, she came and sat on our steps.
Likely, it is not common that we will have a neighbor finding refuge on our physical front steps, but we do have entire communities who are sitting on our front steps in other ways. We live with many who need help, and want help, and can’t find their way to knock. I am left wondering how I might open the door and invite Jesus to wipe the tears on the front steps of my neighborhood.
The other day I picked up a book that reminded me that the literal meaning of ‘hospitality’ as found in the Bible means “loving strangers.”
There are many (historical) customs regarding the treating of strangers such as the ancient Bedouin shepherds offering of coffee – the first cup to a stranger is a gift that builds trust and is done in a ritual that begins with the roasting of the beans, which you can imagine takes time. The stranger is welcomed, no questions asked. Not until the third day. I have never experienced this, but I sat next to a Bedouin woman when flying from Boston to Montreal, and she filled me in on the whole experience. The Bedouin tribe go way back to the Biblical days. They are nomads who constantly move their sheep around to find new pasture. Often a person would come by their camp in which the tribe would practice this method of hospitality. Practices like this flush out the true deep meaning of hospitality in which we generously make our lives/homes open to those with whom we have no relationship. This means vulnerability, but it is done out of the same motive for loving ones neighbour. It is an unconditional love; the kind that Jesus demonstrated.
Having just returned from a time of remembrance for those who fought for freedom, I heard the message of “how much” was given for the sake of freedom. It’s true! I could never fully understand the amount of sacrifice given for me to live in freedom today. This truth is also heard most every Sunday, the first day of every week, a day of rest and remembrance of the sacrifice and victory given by Christ so that we may be free! Many preachers and songs try emphasize how deep or great this love is for us. How can we measure this?
It just so happens this week is also when I picked up a book that caught my interest called, “The Little Book of Lykke – The Danish search for the world’s happiest people.” (Lykke is Danish for happiness) You see, the author, Meik Wiking, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, where they measure happiness. Denmark, Switzerland, and Finland are the top three in the world. The book shares a great deal of unique insight to metrics, while advocating for healthy neighbouring relationships. Interesting!
When it comes to loving your neighbour, many wonder how to measure its success (our Western cultures’ metric for most things), and whether or not “its working.” Perhaps we must revisit the remembrance day service, or the church service, reminding us of sacrificial love! There are times in history where people wondered if we forgot. Perhaps sacrificial love was forgotten for a time, but did that change the outcome of measurement as to the sacrificial love itself? And do the answers to these questions change your attitude about why or how you should love your neighbours?
Over the past year it became clear that our neighbour was in the process of becoming a single parent. Our relationship as neighbours grew slowly and steadily. How it had grown was something I was not aware of until the death of her father earlier this summer. At one point, following the news of her father’s death, she asked if I would be willing to do the funeral. You must understand that my role in the community is as a businessman, and, although I am involved as a volunteer leader in our church, I have never been asked to lead a funeral. Having said that, the request to do so was an overwhelming honour. And this made me reflect on how our relationship as neighbours had progressed over time.
Although the story of our neighbour is filled with tragedy and heartbreak, it was good to know that she felt she could come to us during such circumstances. We are grateful to be there for our neighbour, and we look forward the continued journey with her.