Feel Like a Failure at Neighboring? There's Still Hope!

One time there were three young families that just moved into an established neighborhood.  Over the course of the next months and year, the families slowly, but surely tried to make connections with the neighbors right around them. The first family struck-up a relationship of trust with this one neighbor, where each were willing to watch each other’s children or pets — where each trusted the other with access to their home and treasured possessions. The second family struck-up a cordial relationship with this one neighbor, where each was willing to watch each other’s houses while the other was out of town, and borrow each other’s yard tools when the other didn’t have a particular tool for a job. The third family, well, they were never really able to make a good connection with this one neighbor. Try as they would, most of what they were able to do was just wave hello when they saw the other coming home or leaving, but they were never really able to make inroads to a deeper relationship like the other two families did with their neighbors.

Now, which of these three families do you think better better executed the discipline of neighboring? Was it the first family who was able to establish a deep trusting relationship with their neighbor? Or, was it the second family, who at least, was able to have regular interaction with their neighbor? Or, could it possibly be the third family, who seemed to never make it past the first step of establishing a relationship with their neighbor?

Our first inclination might be to award the first family, because they reached the deepest level of intimacy. And, we would probably at least give an honorable mention to the second family for having some level of interaction with their neighbor.

But, the third family. My guess is that we might be tempted to think that they flopped — that they just didn’t put in enough effort. We would probably say the first two families neighbored well. But, the third family pretty much failed.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a similar story,

14 [The kingdom of God] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Now you may not immediately think of this story that Jesus tells as a story about neighboring. And, in general, I would agree. But, I think there is an important point that Jesus makes that does pertain to how we approach neighboring. With the third servant, who only hid his talent, the king in the story says that the servant should have at least invested the talent with the bank, so he could at least get a little return on the investment. As many times as I have read or heard of this story, I often have left it thinking that the third man was dead in the water from the get-go. After all, he seems to be thinking, “I’m no good at this investing thing, so at least I can just not lose the talent I was given.” The servant seems to wallow in his inability to do what the other two servants were very gifted to do. But, the king, in the end says that he would have been just as happy if the servant would have just done a little investing. The king didn’t expect him to have the same return as the other two servants, but to just keep at it with what abilities he did have.

Now, isn’t that how many of us tend to feel when it comes to neighboring? We are like the three families at the beginning of this post. Some of us easily strike up relationships with a neighbor. Some of us easily establish a cordial relationship with a neighbor. And then some of us, we try and try and try to establish a connection with a neighbor, and all we get is a wave hello back from them — no conversation, no sharing of resources, nothing else. In those times, we feel as if it just doesn’t matter. Why bother trying. But, I think if we take Jesus words to heart, we are called to be like the third servant in moments like this. Not giving up, but faithfully doing the little we are able to do. And, if that is just willfully offering a wave hello at the moment, then we faithfully keep doing that till another opportunity presents itself.

I write this partly because this has been a personal experience of mine with a neighbor nearby me. We have tried and tried to establish a closer relationship with this neighbor, but nothing more comes of the relationship. So, we are stuck on waving hello for the most part. That is, until recently, we received a card from this neighbor saying how grateful they were that we are good neighbors. Now, that may not seem like anything. But, the fact that it was even acknowledged that we were neighbors, let alone good neighbors — that is progress, in my book, regarding our neighboring status.

Mike Bowers, a few weeks ago, spoke about how the little things that we faithfully do with our neighbors create a context in which deeper interaction can occur in the future. I think that thought is right in line with the story that Jesus told about the talents. As we all, little by little, faithfully bless and love our neighbors — even if just in simple ways at first — we are part of the bigger mission of God, where we are on the journey of inviting all people to enter into the kingdom of God. We just have to be faithful to do what we can do right now.