Is 'love your neighbor as yourself' practical advice?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Even before they moved in, there was tension. First they insisted my husband and I amend the rules of our two-unit condominium to let them operate a business, and were angry when we would not. Then there were difficulties relating to condo fees and insurance. But worst of all were the explosions of noise that made the furniture rattle and woke me up at night.

Although I managed to keep the relationship cordial, this particular morning I was as rattled as the furniture. I'd had noisy neighbors before, but none who woke me up with noise at 6 o'clock in the morning.

I had tried discussing the banging with them. Perhaps they were renovating their apartment? But they weren't, and wouldn't discuss it further. This particular morning, the banging was so loud I could scarcely think; I just sat and seethed.

I did not want to turn this into a battle, even if I did have right and the condo rules on my side. I wanted quiet, yes, but I wanted more than quiet. I wanted peace, and a good relationship with my neighbors.

To get that, I knew, I needed a higher law than real estate law; I needed God's law. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Christian Science church, described this law of God as "the law of omnipotent harmony and good" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 17). I wondered, what did God's law say about bad neighbors?

Immediately, the answer popped into mind: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39, New International Version). Sadly, this was not practical advice, I thought. These were not lovable neighbors. I was again ready to dig out the condo rules when it occurred to me that, even if I couldn't love them, there was one thing I could do. Instead of rehearsing what bad neighbors they were - which I did with every crash - I could remember that we are all children of the one heavenly Father. I could open my heart to see the goodness that He expresses in each of us. That's what I could love - His goodness - in my neighbors, as in myself.

So that's what I did.

Over the next few days, whenever noise exploded next door, I stopped what I was doing in order to recognize God's goodness expressed in my neighbors: their musical talents, their generosity as teachers, their close-knit families. I remembered God's promise that we "shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make [us] afraid" (Jer. 30:10).

I repeated this promise in my heart whenever I was rattled by the noise. Prayer by prayer, this promise sank into me until I sincerely wanted peace for us all, for them, as much as for myself and my family.

At that moment, sympathy with my neighbors surged in me, and I realized that the only thing worse than living next door to this noise was to live in it. For the first time I imagined what it must sound like from within their walls if it was this loud from within mine.

I didn't know what made their lives sound so frenzied, but the focus of my prayer shifted from "we shall be in rest, and be quiet" to "none shall make us afraid." I prayed to see that, whatever was happening in their lives, these dear ones could feel God's care just as I could. They could see proofs of it no less than I. I prayed this until I knew it in my heart.

The results of my change in heart were dramatic. Within two days, I had warm conversations with both husband and wife. Within four days I attended a party they gave and had a wonderful time. We did a joint landscaping project in our yard (inconceivable just two weeks before). The explosions of noise vanished into the usual bumps of condo living.

Recently, I received a call from my neighbor. She was worried that an exercise machine they bought was disturbing me. It wasn't, but she decided they would use it in the basement ... just in case. As I hung up the phone, I breathed a prayer of thanks that I had laid aside the condo's rules for God's.

Peace be within thee.

Psalms 122:8

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