The problem started when we asked our neighbors to keep their dog inside at night so his barking wouldn't wake us up. We felt we were justified because the 24-hour barking disturbed us constantly.
When our requests were ignored, my husband filed a complaint with the animal control department. Our neighbors responded with anger that took a serious toll on our peace of mind. The lack of responsibility they showed and diminished respect we had for one another became unbearable. This continued until the animal control officer declared the dog a public nuisance.
We became a target of hatred. In addition to the tension between our families, garbage was thrown over the fence from their porch into our yard when they had parties.
I longed for peace, and prayed continually about the situation. Each day I looked across our yard toward their house, trying to love them despite everything. Sometime later, the husband was deployed overseas, and his departure made me feel that I had failed at loving my neighbor.
A conversation from the Bible helped me. A man once asked Jesus, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 22:36–39). There seems to be no wiggle room in this commandment.
As I was thinking about how specific it is, I had a sudden insight. Suppose, instead of complaining about their dog, I'd been spraying a garden hose at my neighbor? If I wanted peace and healing, I would have to be willing to put the hose down first, then ask for forgiveness. So long as I was doing what was making him angry, the feud would continue.
A healing shift in thought came once I stopped trying to justify having done things in a certain way because of what I believed others had done to me. I began by letting go of every conceivable reason why things had gotten to this point. If I wanted peace, I had to stop doing what had upset my neighbors in the first place; I had to stop complaining about the dog. I realized that I could not be the victim of a barking dog, or an unforgiving neighbor, and neither could they. The desire was to love my neighbor as Jesus loved – unconditionally.
So, I argued on the side of peace, saying hello, even when I was being cursed at. I picked up garbage, humbly and quietly, when it was left in my yard – forgiving, even when I didn't want to. I prayed with an idea from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy. She described "Gethsemane," the garden where Jesus' disciples slept while he awaited arrest, as representing "patient woe; the human yielding to the divine; love meeting no response, but still remaining love" (p. 586). I saw that my job was to express that kind of love even if I didn't see an immediate response.
I prayed for the neighborhood, for the community, and the world, always including this man – father, husband, neighbor – while he was overseas. When I would see his family outside, I would think about all the spiritual qualities that were easy to see. These included their joy, commitment to family, the obvious love they shared. In this sense, they were not unlike our family.
Sometimes when trying to restore harmony, it's easy to look for results while continuing to look for ways to avoid any change in one's own behavior. With my neighbors, I realized I needed to hand it over to God first, fully and completely – even if it meant losing a few nights' sleep in the process.
The outcome has been wonderful. The neighbors began training the dog and keeping him in at night. We began to see them walking the dog on the street instead of fencing him in the backyard. Then, slowly, interaction began. Smiles and waves came more frequently. The anger we felt left, and we happily greeted our neighbor when he returned safely from overseas.
Since this resolution occurred, we are very grateful for the continued peace. The sounds that come over our fence now are those of their beautiful children – often with the dog in the middle of it all.
Being willing to love first and accept the promise of healing, I could mentally argue on the side of peace, not trying to justify anything we had done or condemn anything they had done. Self-justification was replaced with the love that can only come from God. Trusting God more, I was able to let His love live out the true expression of home and harmony.