Hug the neighborhood
Originally printed in the Christian Science Sentinel
We lived in a great neighborhood. People had become good friends, and the children all played together. You could count on the neighbors to be there for you, especially in times of need. We were like an extended family.
Then, we moved.
The new neighborhood was beautiful and had children of various ages. Eager to make friends, I introduced myself around. People were cordial - at best. When I said hello to the kids, they simply stared. No one appeared to be interested in making new friends. Frankly, they didn't seem to care much about each other, much less about us.
Yet as time passed, I found things to be grateful for. Daily walks allowed me to appreciate the lawns, the flowers and trees, and a wide range of architectural styles, which gave character to the neighborhood.
Then, one night around 10, while I was walking my dog, a neighbor came out of his front door holding a shotgun. He shined a heavy-duty flashlight on me, demanding to know what I was doing. I waved and bid him a good evening, and he went back inside.
I wasn't frightened by this but I was very disappointed. Wondering what more I could do to establish friendlier relations, I searched for inspiration. This helped me: "We should measure our love for God by our love for man; and our sense of Science will be measured by our obedience to God, - fulfilling the law of Love, doing good to all; imparting, so far as we reflect them, Truth, Life, and Love to all within the radius of our atmosphere of thought" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 12).
I figured that in order to accurately determine my love for God, I should consider whether the motives behind my actions were good ones. As I thought about it, I realized that my consideration of my neighbors had actually been full of concern for myself. I'd yearned for my family to be accepted. There was nothing wrong with this per se, but it was pretty self-centered. Maybe I needed a less selfish reason for connecting with the neighbors.
The ability to help others - to "impart Truth, Life, and Love" - comes from reflecting God. Acknowledging God as the source of my ability to love would purify my motives and help me love more unconditionally. It would help me stop worrying about whether or not my neighbors returned my love.
This Bible commentary about motives helped me a lot, too: "Fellowship with God has many by-products of great worth; but to seek them first, and to view trust in God as a means to them, is fatal to true communion with him.... Friend, mate, and the living God must be sought for their own sakes. To crave God as a help to our aims is to deify these aims, and this is idolatry" ("The Interpreter's Bible," Vol. 5, pg. 451). I'd been asking God how to get the neighbors to come to me, instead of asking Him what I could bring to them.
Now I began to see these people in a new way. No matter how they behaved, I could accept that each one was included in God's all-powerful love. And that they were actually made by God to express unconditional love. Nothing could change that. God's love is universal, and no one is left out, forgotten, or excluded.
I felt that the problem had been solved. And even though a year had passed, it was as though time had stood still. I had to laugh when a neighbor called to invite me to lunch, saying she was certain that I was new to the neighborhood. Two days later, I received another invitation. There, I met a newcomer to the neighborhood, and the following weekend my husband and I got together with her and her husband. A couple of weeks later, another neighbor asked me to come down and stay with their family in a time of need. I was happy to do this.
This more spiritual view of others has affected my experience beyond my own neighborhood. When I was on a trip, for instance, an acquaintance I spoke with invited me to spend the weekend with her. This was quite unexpected, and for an instant, I was astonished. But then I realized that it was more proof that love isn't just for one time or just in one place, and that she and I were, in a real sense, neighbors.
Part of seeing that other people are God's children is that they see themselves (and you) as His children, too. I look forward to including more and more people in a full circle of love.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society