Reaching out and caring for our neighbours might not seem to cost that much. Attentiveness is not expensive and being alert to the stories of others is a posture available to almost everyone. We can, quite simply, be a good neighbour any day of the week using what we have already.
Still, there is a paradox here. Caring for our neighbours can, in the same moment, be costly. There is a price that comes with opening our lives up to others. In fact, it can be expensive, and almost unbearably so if the cost is thrust upon us unexpectedly.
I hear often from people who are trying hard to be good neighbours but are deeply bothered by those around them. On one hand they want to be kind, but their neighbours are driving them crazy. Late night parties, noisy pets, parked cars or camper trailers left in the wrong spot, messy yards, garbage, racism, and more. There are some surefire ways to drive a wedge between neighbours. From slights to outright crime, if left unattended, can destroy communities. I have spoken to several people, left nearly in tears, because of neighbourhood relationships that have soured. I feel for them, and I’ve been there before.
Our responses are also revealing. Canadians are generally conflict adverse, so neighbours leave notes, texts, put up signs, gossip angrily, or threaten, seethe, and maybe even yell from a distance. Often this just seems to cement a broken relationship and serve as a sign that things have gotten so bad as to be unrepairable until someone moves away. Neighbours become like enemies.
I have bad news and very good news, and it comes in one paradoxical phrase: we can love our enemies. This, at first, feels like very bad news. Loving those neighbours who exhibit such terrible behaviour feels like an injustice. Only good people deserve our care, our attention, and our friendship. Life is too short to love those who don’t deserve it. It’s costly, unfair, impossibly uncomfortable and comes at a personal risk to us. This is bad news.
Loving our enemies is also very good news. It gives us a path out of the darkness. Hating our neighbours has only one universal outcome: broken relationships, growing hatred in our own hearts, fear, loathing, animosity, and a distrust that taints our life as well as theirs. In fact, withholding forgiveness does as much damage in us, as in them. But loving our neighbours gives us a way out of the dungeon of the injustice we feel. It costs a great deal, but it is the only way out. When we love our neighbours we recognize that we do bear the cost of their stupid behaviour. We don’t downplay the toll it takes, but we name it. Our love for our neighbours then gives us courage to actively seek out their wellbeing and engage their story with forgiveness, truth, hope, and more. Hatred makes us think we cannot resolve a problem, but love gives us an imagination for a way through. In my experience, a loving neighbour has few enemies over the long term, only a community of people who have been the recipients of grace. And grace is a powerful thing.
I sometimes wish that a sharp tongue, a threat, or an anonymous note could solve neighbourhood conflict, but it does not. Only a deeper love for our neighbours, and even our enemies, can open the door to the kind of resolution and peace we are looking for on our street, and in our hearts. When Jesus invited his followers to love neighbours and enemies alike, he may have been offering the only real way to carry the cost that he knew we would have in doing so.