Where’s The Love Ya’ll?

  (I was torn between Hanson and The Black Eyed Peas for today’s title, but in the end, The Black Eyed Peas won out, because let’s be honest, in a battle of Hanson vs. The Black Eyed Peas, I’m pretty sure they always would.) 

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 
Mark 12:28-31

Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Pretty simple right? 

My parents have been blessed with wonderful neighbors.  Right next door is a family who has loved, supported, and given freely to our family for over 15 years.  Through time, they have become some of our closest and dearest friends. 

I recently hosted a bridal shower with my mom and two hours before the shower, our neighbor came over to see if she could help.  She is extremely gifted with creativity, hospitality, and all things fabulous, so knowing that we’re not exactly in her realm of talent, she could probably sense desperate when she saw it.

Within minutes, she was helping us make little sandwiches, bringing over her beautiful silver platters to use, and sharing her unbelievable flower arrangements.  It was as if a little fairy godmother had come by and transformed the table from pretty to exquisite. 

She is an easy neighbor to love, because she loves you back so deeply and so freely.  The way she loves our family has taught me a lot about listening to Jesus’ command when He says we are called to love our nighbors as ourselves.

But what if they’re not that easy to love?  What if they won’t love you back?  What if everything in you wants to avoid them?  Well, that’s a whole other story…

In our new apartment, I have been given a neighbor where everything in me wants to avoid, ignore, and not have to interact with her at all.  (There’s that sin thing again.)

But the few times I have taken the time to talk to her, I see that she is desperate for love, support, and companionship.  She is a neighbor that God has put in my life to love.  To say to Him,  “Yes, Lord, I want to love you with all of my heart, but your children are important to me too!  Teach me to love my neighbor as myself, even the really hard ones.”

(That can be a dangerous prayer, because He’ll usually give you an opportunity to try it out, so beware.)

I don’t think Jesus was only talking about our physical neighbors, although in my situation she is literally my neighbor.  In Luke 10, someone asks Jesus how one can inherit eternal life and Jesus has him quote the passage I included above about loving God and then our neighbors.  When the man inquires as to who our neighbor actually is, Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The man lying on the side of the road and the Samaritan who stops to help him weren’t actual neighbors, but of the three that passed him along the road Jesus asks,

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”      
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
      Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10: 36-37

Not only are we called to love our God with every ounce of our being, but right up there with loving Him, He tells us to love our neighbors in the same way we would want to be loved.  That’s how important it is to Him that we’re loving His children—all of them, even the more difficult ones.

I think sometimes I try to convince myself that as long as I’m loving God and trying to make the first commandment work, I don’t need to worry as much about the second one.  I know, I know…I’m way off. 

I freely admit that this is something that I fail at over and over again.  I fall short in loving my friends, my family, the neighbors I like, the neighbors I don’t like, and the people in need that I pass by and encounter on a daily basis.  Loving other people is something that’s really hard for me.  Usually because I’m too busy loving myself. 

Does anyone else struggle with this?  How can we love the harder people God has put in our lives?

One thing I’ve done with my new neighbor is confess it to my Bible study so they can be praying for me, challenging me, and holding me accountable.  Their love, grace, and encouragement has been such a gift.  It also helped for me to tell someone, so now it’s even harder for me to ignore her, especially when they’re always asking me about how she’s doing and how I’ve been able to love her.  Their enthusiasm and prayer has helped to strengthen my sinful and weary heart. 

Ultimately I know this is nothing I’ll be able to do on my own.  So today, I’m grateful for the power of prayer and God’s free grace.  

 “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 
John 21:16

 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
1 John 3:16-20