Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco has a bit called “Doorbell” that I think pretty clearly explains how hard it can be to get to know the people who live around you:
“It’s a different feeling when your doorbell rings today, as opposed to twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, your doorbell rang, that was a happy moment in your house. It’s called ‘company.’ You’d be sitting there on the couch on a Thursday night watching TV, and your doorbell rang, your whole family shot off the couch… ‘Put the lights on! Somebody’s here! We got people! … Nobody looked to see who it was. You just opened up the door…’
But now, your doorbell rings, it’s like ‘What the…? Get down! … You have to turn and ask your family, did you invite anybody over? Did you?'”
And, as Maniscalco describes with pantomimes I can’t do justice, you hide. You don’t let the person at the door see movement. You don’t invite them in and have cake.
Most people I’ve talked to would actually really like to get to know the people who live around them. But times have changed. We’re busier, we can be less trusting (albeit sometimes for good reason), and we don’t want to impose on each other. I react just like Sebastian Maniscalco describes when my doorbell rings, and I’m hesitant to ring anyone else’s unannounced for the same reason.
From a Biblical perspective, there are many reasons to be friends with your neighbors, not the least of which is that Jesus directly tells us to do it:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version (NIV)
Of course, I don’t think Jesus was only talking about our physical neighbors. But I think they certainly would be included.
So why is it hard for you to be friends with your neighbors? Let’s look at some of the reasons I’ve run into, and how to overcome them.
I’m so busy
There’s no way to get around this: life is busy. I find that I always have something on my plate that seems more pressing and urgent than having my neighbor over for dinner. We’ll find another time, I tell myself. But things I constantly postpone tend to not happen.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.”
6 We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
7 And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.
Psalm 38:5-7 NLT
If we want to be friends with our neighbors, one of the first things we have to deal with is our busy rushing. We can choose what we prioritize. We have to step back sometimes and decide what’s really important and how we want to spend the brief time we have on earth.
On a practical level, something that helps when you feel too busy to have people over is to take the pressure off of being the perfect host. I recently read an article on “scruffy hospitality” that made a huge impact on me. Your house doesn’t have to be picture-perfect; people want to spend time with you, not your living room.
We had friends over for dinner the other day while a soon-to-be-installed washing machine and dryer sat in the middle of our living room. It was really hard for me. But in the end, as we all sat around the washer-dryer, laughing and talking about how much we want to hang out again. I’m really glad we didn’t let our imperfect living room stop us from getting to know someone new.
I don’t want to impose
I feel this all the time. I don’t want to bother anyone by stopping to chat while they are running to their car or knocking on their door while they are busy. But the truth is, I’m usually thinking about myself too much when I feel this way. Most people aren’t bothered by someone trying to do good for them. I’m not advocating for being inconsiderate or pushy, but I don’t think we have to worry as much about imposing as we do.
When we moved into our current place, my husband and I felt that we really wanted to put down roots. So we decided to do a housewarming party to get to know our neighbors. We walked around and knocked on doors to introduce ourselves and give out invitations. I was nervous about doing this, as I didn’t want to impose on anyone. But we were surprised at how many of our new neighbors happily invited us in and chatted with us for quite some time, even though we were strangers, we had come by unannounced, and we had probably interrupted something else they were doing.
So my point is, don’t worry so much about imposing that you don’t do anything good! This is what the Bible talks about in 1 John:
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
1 John 3:18-20 MSG
Loving actions help shut down our insecurity and self-criticism. What loving thing could you do for one of your neighbors? What good thing has your insecurity and fear of imposing been stopping you from doing?
I don’t want the hassle
To be honest, one of the big reasons it’s hard to be friends with our neighbors is sometimes we don’t want the hassle of getting to know someone new. I know that sounds callous, but it’s often true. Sometimes I don’t want to slow down on my way to the mailbox long enough to chat. Sometimes I don’t want to plan a neighborhood event, because it’s going to take time and money. I have to go out of my comfort zone to meet new people, and sometimes I’d rather watch Netflix.
I think the important thing to understand is that it is certainly easier to stay in your own house and watch your own TV, than to get to know someone new. But you’ll reap the fruit of your choices. You’ll miss out on getting to know the interesting couple upstairs, or the family next door. You might miss out on the neighbor who really needs a friend, who is hurting, and who lives next to you for a reason:
From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live.
Acts 17:26 NIrV
This Scripture teaches us that God decides exactly when and where we should live. So that means you are in your neighborhood for a reason! Maybe someone needs you. You could change a life and brighten someone’s day.
Whose life will you change by deciding to slow down and be kind?