It was a warm, breezy day. Our subdivision was full of activity as city workers dug up each yard to repair water pipes that ran parallel with the street.
Just a day earlier, our next door neighbor’s little boy had been playing on his small John Deere tractor in my yard next to the very spot where a large bulldozer now sat. As the men began to dig, I suddenly realized that his tractor was still sitting there. I hurriedly pulled on my shoes and ran outside to move it back into his yard before it became a squished Deere.
Several hours later, I’d completely forgotten about that morning’s near tragedy as I busily went about my household chores for the day. It was then that I heard a loud knocking on my front door. I opened it to find my neighbor standing at my doorstep with a look of disgust on her face.
"Hi. Can I help you?" I muttered.
Out of nowhere, she growled at me, "Where’s the pipe to my son’s tractor?"
Pipe? It was the first I’d heard of a pipe. But apparently, as my neighbor quickly informed me, this wonderful little piece of plastic magnificence came with some sort of a spray mechanism that pumped water, drenching anything and everything that got in its way. However, because I was unaware of its existence when I’d picked up the tractor, I must
have overlooked the plastic tube that’d been removed from it.
"Oh," I said. "I didn’t see any piece of plastic tube. It’s probably still laying out in the yard."
With that, my neighbor wheeled around and marched out to my front yard looking as if she were hunting treasure.
Thinking that we’d finished our hasty conversation, I closed the door and continued with my cleaning. A few short moments later, an insistent pounding on my door told me the conversation had just begun.
I opened the door a little more cautiously this time. With a face redder than before, my neighbor exclaimed, "I’ll just send you the bill for the cost of a new tractor."
I was dumbfounded. Had I heard this woman right? Was she really insinuating that I had purposely lost a piece to her son’s tractor, when in fact I was actually saving it from total
destruction…in MY yard?
With every fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians being tested, I politely looked her square in the eye and stated, "I don’t think so. I was trying to be nice by moving your child’s toy out of my yard so that it wouldn’t get tore up. Maybe you should take better care of his things."
There, I said it. The words being quite a feat coming from me, a little gal who normally can’t stand confrontation.
My neighbor quickly retorted, "Then I’ll just sit on your porch until you help me find it."
Feeling my temper flaring, I responded, "Well, ma’am, you will be sitting there all day."
With that, I shut the door and ran to the phone to call my husband. I needed to vent to someone and I wasn’t ready to bring this situation to God yet. I knew what His response would
I knew the Lord would tell me to love my neighbor and let her words pass right over me. I also realized that He’d remind me that I’m just as much of a sinner as she is and that He’d forgiven me endless times for attitudes and actions that were unpleasing, even grievous to
Him. Because of this, I should forgive her of this minor infraction, especially knowing some of the deep-pitted problems she’d experienced over the last few years. Yet, I wasn’t ready to let it go. I was steamed.
To my shame, instead of making the decision to love my neighbor, I instead began to harbor bitter feelings toward her. And not simply for a few days, but for several years. Because of this experience and a few other instances with her, I plotted endless ways to keep the distance between her household and mine, instead of showing the love of Christ through forgiveness and kindness.
What I didn’t realize was that I was being taught a very valuable, yet difficult lesson about loving the unlovable.
It was no accident that I lived next to this woman. God had placed her in my life in order to stretch me. I wasn’t always the first in line to turn the other cheek when others rocked my boat. But through this relationship, God was asking me to lay down my pride and pick up the cloak of humbled heart.
I found myself being reminded of Jesus’ words about loving those who are hard to love. He said:
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’
love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:32-36)
While it was a long process, after continuous conviction and much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I realized that instead of harboring such bitterness and disdain, I needed a heart change. As difficult as it was, I started trying to put forth the effort to smile and wave when I saw my neighbor. I even began to share some of our garden produce in the summer months. Not only that, but on numerous occasions my husband and I would walk over and offer friendly conversation on long summer evenings. To my surprise, I started to see that there was a warm, friendly soul behind her rough exterior.
I would love to say that all has been perfect since I started reaching out to my neighbor. But unfortunately, I’m not always the picture of perfect love and kindness. I still struggle with loving those who don’t make it easy and am a project in the works with much growing to do. However, I’m encouraged as I slowly but surely continue learning how to love those I find unlovable.