'I am your neighbor'

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

My favorite pen will never go on an airplane with me. The top barrel, made of shiny clear red plastic, contains a metal file, a tiny pair of scissors, and a knife. It's beautifully made, has a wonderful weight to it, and is just plain jazzy. But it's my favorite pen for other reasons.

Right around this time last year, we moved to a small apartment while some major work was being done on our home. Because moving day was also the coldest day of the year, problems arose that delayed the move, and the landlady became angry - very angry. Apologies were of no avail. During the first week of settling in, the anger accelerated to hatred, and she threatened to evict us. One morning after calling to ask her permission to let the phone man in, I realized I was trembling. That's when it hit me: No matter how short-term the lease, this needed resolution.

I turned to God for an answer. What came to me just as soon as I recognized that prayer could help was, "She is your neighbor." The two commandments Jesus taught were to love God and to "love thy neighbour as thyself."

With this law underpinning my prayer, I made a radical shift from the appearance of things to the spiritual facts. This brought some helpful ideas into focus: home, my identity, and the landlady's identity.

Spiritually speaking, I think of home as the kingdom of heaven that Jesus spoke of. What is that home like? Its atmosphere would be light and happy, joyful and supportive. It would never be frightening, dark, or threatening. Fear could not drive me out of it. God's home is my present home - not for some far-off day. Right now I live in the atmosphere of God's goodness.

God, divine Love, would not withhold good from His creation, and so, right in that apartment building, God's presence was meant to be known, expressed, and felt. This led me to conclusions about my landlady. She could not be deprived of harmony or love, either. Neither of us, as God's children, could feel at home in any atmosphere but Love's atmosphere. As neighbors we enjoyed the same atmosphere.

When I passed the landlady in the hall and the insults continued, I responded to them silently with a conviction that God was with us, and she could not be determined to hate, nor could I be determined to feel hated.

After a couple of days, I came into the foyer one afternoon, and she was standing there. She didn't like the way I'd closed the door when I left the building and told me how it should be done; I apologized and told her I would be more careful. Hesitating for a moment, but sensing an opening, I looked at her directly. With all the love my prayers had built up in me, I said, "I am not your enemy. I am your neighbor. My husband and I love our new home here and appreciate how well you keep it. We are good neighbors, and we want nothing more than to have you feel that."

I then offered that perhaps the glitches of moving day could be put behind us and we could start fresh. To my astonishment, she was not only speechless; she nodded in agreement, and I went upstairs.

From then on, we began to have short, pleasant exchanges, and then longer ones. A true friendship developed. She gave me a bottle of perfume. I brought her pastries.

When the day came to move out, she asked me to come and see her. As I was getting up to leave after a short visit, she put her hand on my cheek and said, "I love you," and then out of her bag she presented a small wrapped package. The pen, of course - my favorite pen.

Ye have heard
that it hath been said,
Thou shalt love thy neighbour,
and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you,
Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them
which despitefully use you,
and persecute you;
That ye may be
the children of your Father
which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:43-45

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