After living in the south for a couple of years I returned home to Michigan for a visit with my family. My sister and I took a walk through her neighborhood and I smiled and waved at every person we came across.
I waved at her neighbor across the street getting into their car. No reply.
I smiled and waved at the lady walking her dog. No response.
I goofily waved at a car full of people heading out to dinner, the movies, or to grocery store. Ignored again.
I thought, “What is happening here?”
Part of what encouraged me to quit my job and move to South Carolina was the friendliness of the people I first encountered here. When you see someone you recognize at the grocery store you go out of your way to say hello and chat. Everyone makes eye contact with their cashier and makes small talk. We sit on our front porches and invite strangers up to sit and talk. And we wave at everybody we come across while out and about. It’s different than where I grew up and while on vacation I was quickly reminded of this.
My sister looked at me and said, “Why are you waving at everyone? We don’t do that here.”
I replied, “But, why not?”
How do we become good neighbors?
“Only when your habits are constructed to match your worldview do you become someone who doesn’t just know about God and neighbor but someone who actually loves God and neighbor.” The Common Rule, by Justin Whitmel Earley
Sitting on the front porch
Where I live in South Carolina everyone has a front porch and a back screened in porch. When you aren’t in the mood to socialize you sit on your hidden porch, but when you are open to receive visitors and conversation you sit on your front porch in a rocking chair.
After lunch each day I like to grab my iPod shuffle, which is loaded up with a week’s worth of podcast episodes, and take a 30-45 minute walk. I like to walk a few different paths through my neighborhood, but usually walk past the home of two friends.
They are retired and enjoy the finer things in life, so they can usually be found sitting on their front porch drinking a glass of homemade wine, snacking on pistachios, and watching the birds building nests near the adjacent pond.
It would be very easy for me to see them across the square and take a different path.
And when I lived in Michigan this is exactly what I would have done because I was always too busy doing whatever it was I did to sit and make small talk.
But now I walk by their home and wave. My friend will greet me and say, “Come aboard!”
So I do… I grab a chair and I’m offered drinks, snacks, and great company. If you are calling me at around 4:00 or 4:30 and I don’t answer it is because I am sitting here on my friend’s porch discussing how birds make their nests, where they go in the winter, if it is the female birds or the males that are responsible for building the nest, and talking about everything else under the sun.
I always lose track of time and they remind me that my wife will be home from work soon. Being a great husband that is still on my honeymoon, I quickly run home to find some dishes to wash or garbage to take out. When she pulls up I like to be caught red handed, busy doing chores.
Ever since we moved into our current neighborhood my wife and I have held a happy hour with our neighbors at least a couple of times per month.
We all meet on the porch on Friday or Saturday night at around 5:00 or 6:00 and bring drinks of wine, kombucha, or prosecco and snacks of mixed nuts, parmesan reggiano cheese, marinated olives, or prosciutto.
We sit for hours talking about our days, sharing stories from our childhood, talking about our plans and what we are working on, and much much more. The night is always full of laughter, smiles, and friendship.
It is fascinating how well I sleep after happy hour with my neighbors. This is just one of the many benefits to spending the evening on the porch socializing instead of the alternative of collapsing onto the couch after dinner and watching my favorite shows The West Wing or Burn Notice for the third time.
But it’s very easy to not have these happy hours.
It takes effort from both households for our happy hour rhythm to persist. It doesn’t just magically happen. We have to plan for it and I usually regret making these plans when it’s time to leave the comfort of my couch.
I’m always grateful after the fact, but the pull to be comfortable indoors and not socialize is very strong.
Is this why we started keeping our heads down while walking past neighbors and stopped smiling, waving, and saying hello?
“More Americans regularly eat alone now than ever before. Food is meant to bind us to God, neighbor, and creation, but we live in a culture where our eating habits keep us apart and increase our isolation. The best way to understand the Common Rule habit of one meal a day with others is to see it as a way of turning on that light of presence in a dark culture of loneliness. Like all of the habits, the point is to adopt the rhythms of the gospel into our daily lives and to have those rhythms become a blessing to us and our neighbors.”Justin Whitmel Earley
Helping your neighbors
As much as I’ve try to hide the fact that I worked at Best Buy for ten years and managed the Geek Squad department, my neighbors still found out. I never like to share this fact because if I do I’ll be the guy people come to for advice on what computer to buy or what TV they should get. I’ll be asked to fix the WiFi, remove a virus from their computer, get their TV to connect to the internet, and the list goes on and on.
But why should I hide this fact?
I’ve began embracing my skills with technology and now offer my support to my neighbors.
In the last two years I’ve fixed routers, backed up computers, installed software, connected TVs to the internet, tried to recover lost passwords, fixed settings in Windows, repaired Kindles that wouldn’t turn on, fixed the internet on iPhones, and later today I will be going to a friends house to change their router’s password.
How can you help your neighbor?
Can you help them move heavy plants, shovel their driveway after a snowstorm (yuck!), or cook a meal for them when they have a baby or come back from an operation at the hospital?
Or can you keep an eye on their home when they are out of town and offer to grab their mail or pickup any packages off their porch until they return? How about offering to water their houseplants and check to make sure that everything is okay inside?
What about offering friendship?
I think the best thing you can offer your neighbor is friendship. Get to know them by name, spend time with them, and ask about their kids and family. Why do we live in subdivisions with houses that are less than 100 feet apart and not get to know the people on either side of us? It just doesn’t make sense.
In return for helping out my neighbors I’ve received dozens of freshly caught trout and redfish, baked goods, kitchenwares, herbs from the garden, interesting books, bottles of wine, bowls of watermelon, candles, and much much more.
But the best gift I’ve received is friendship and kindness. It is nice to know that my neighbors are looking out for my wife and I and that I’ve been able to help them in what I consider small and insignificant ways.
Praying for your neighbors and neighborhood
I first heard of praying for your neighborhood and community from two of my friends. My friend Don shared that while he was purchasing their farm his wife and him walked around the entire property perimeter praying. The farm has since become a beautiful sanctuary with a blessed family, garden, pond, trees, and animals. It is truly a special place where you can feel God’s presence.
Don formed a group of people to meet and complete prayer walks around a local community that has been struggling for quite some time. They meet up at the local diner and walk the streets together in prayer.
My other friend, Stephen, runs a few miles every day and is a prayer warrior.
When you are with him you feel complete peace radiating from deep inside. I always want to spend more time with him than I am able.
While running he prays for specific people and the community at different points. My jaw dropped when he shared that he prays for my wife and I every single day at a specific point during his run.
I’ve adopted similar habits as my friends and every Wednesday morning I pray for all my neighbors by name. I pray for my neighborhood church and our entire neighborhood as a whole.
When I take my walks each day I silently pray for the families in the homes I am passing and the nature and animals in the surrounding ponds, bushes, and trees.
“When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, it was not just for our neighbors’ sakes that he commanded it, but for our own sakes as well.”The Spiritually Vibrant Home, by Don Everts
When did we stop getting to know our neighbors?
When I was a kid we moved into a small neighborhood outside of town. At first I didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood, but one afternoon, shortly after moving in, I got invited to join the neighborhood kids playing street hockey and the rest is history.
We played street hockey almost every day and used our parents’s car headlights to light the street up when the sun went down. We ice skated on the ponds in the winter, played video games indoors on rainy days, and became best friends.
My friend and I took bike trips up to the corner store for pizza sticks, cheesy bread, and slushies. The small patch of trees behind my house felt like a national forest. We had tree forts, teepees, trails, and names for all our secret bases. Tower one, tower two, the big oak, etc.
We spent as much time as possible together.
Does this still happen today?
Do you know the names of your neighbors?
Please let me know in the comments below. It’s easy to find entertainment on iPads, iPhones, on laptops, and on the TV. Why go outside and spend time getting to know your neighbor? What is the benefit of knowing them by name? What if you are asked to do something you don’t want do? It’s just too scary… Isn’t it better to keep to yourself?
Feature image courtesy of Robin Jonathan Deutsch.