I live in a row of terraced Victorian houses not far from the center of my city.
The house next door hasn't been inhabited since the owner died more than a year ago. It is now shabby and derelict. The common wall between the houses is cold and damp, and it inflates my heating bills in winter. It's been hard not to resent the inactivity of the late owner's family, who have inherited the property and done little to renovate it.
As a student of the Bible, which has shown me how to rely on God for all my needs, I have prayed for spiritual insight on how to handle the situation. One morning I felt impelled to turn to Christ Jesus' parable about prayers offered in the temple by two different people, a Pharisee and a tax collector (see Luke, chap. 18). The Pharisee expressed gratitude that he was not greedy, dishonest, and impure like the tax collector. The tax collector called on God to have mercy and forgive him his sins. Jesus was pointing out in this story that those who boast of their own goodness can easily fall into the sin of looking down on others. He said, "Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (verse 14).
Although at first that Bible story seemed remote from my own experience, I soon realized that the message might actually be a little too close for comfort. Perhaps I had fallen into the same trap as the Pharisee and was the one needing forgiveness!
Thoroughly jolted, I overcame enough of my resentment to take on the extra task of shoveling snow from my neighbors' section of the sidewalk, which prevented their penalization by the city council. But there was much more for me to do. Every unfriendly, indignant thought of mine had to be "shoveled" right out as well. I found I was expending too much energy fretting over someone else's failure to meet my standards of behavior, while I was failing a different test myself.
The writings of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded this newspaper, contain many references to good neighborliness. A passage in her book Miscellaneous Writings says, "Man must love his neighbor as himself, and the power of Truth must be seen and felt in health, happiness, and holiness: then it will be found that Mind is All-in-all, and there is no matter to cope with" (p. 183).
That passage awakened me to the fact that it was "the power of Truth" (a synonym for God), and not a splurge of human kindness, that would bring me closer to the people next door. "Happiness, and holiness" come into our lives when a misplaced concern about what others are doing is replaced by the understanding that every circumstance is within the faultless control of divine Mind (another synonym for God). It is our duty to identify in ourselves and others the true nature of God's child, which derives from His flawless, unchanging, divine nature. As we increasingly let this good identity hold our attention, we see more evidence of these qualities in our daily lives.
One morning last spring, I came out to see the house next door transformed. Interlacing sprays of climbing roses, before unnoticed, had burst into bloom. They filled the derelict front yard with a blaze of scarlet, completely hiding the peeling walls at street level.
I felt more than a little chastened. It was suddenly so clear to me that it is far more important for us to identify our own weaknesses and strive to correct them, than to judge the performance of our neighbors, who, for all we know, may already be making rapid strides in other areas. If we truly love our neighbors, we'll be desiring the highest good for them, and doing everything in our power to help them achieve it.
Shortly afterward I was able to reach the new owner by telephone. I found her agreeable to several proposals for improvement to our shared gutters and roof areas.
Real change is now well on its way. Even more important, I have resolved never again to doubt that when I turn trustingly to God for help, He will reveal a healing solution that guarantees progress for both me and my neighbor.
You can find other articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine.