When we moved to the city and into our neighborhood 10 years ago, we did so with a heart to plant roots. We wanted to establish relationships, be present and make the neighborhood better than when we had arrived. We were working really hard to literally love our neighbors.
When Matt built our raised garden beds, we even painted the verse Jeremiah 29:5 on them. We were taking seriously the heart of God to move in, “plant gardens and eat of its fruit”. Our vision was to invest in and be a blessing to those around us, all the while seeking the flourishing and Shalom of the city.
What does Shalom even mean? It means peace and wholeness. It’s not just the absence of conflict or a “don’t rock the boat” mentality. Rather, it’s a holistic inner peace, brought on by the presence of God, that has implications for your spiritual, relational and physical well-being.
I love how one writer put it, “Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being — physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right — with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.”
So the question we began to ask ourselves was how can we be that shalom for our neighbors?
How can we love our neighbors well? Keep in mind that if you follow Jesus this is not a suggestion but an imperative (command) given by God.
Here are some of the things that we have done that have created environments that have fostered relationships, trust, friendship and created avenues for people to feel loved and known in our neighborhood:
- Host our yearly block party
- Host backyard movie nights
- Hosted the neighborhood Easter egg hunt
- Have neighbors over for meals
- Launched a neighborhood clean up group
- Host chili and cornbread and then go Trick-or-Treating on Halloween
- Sit on the front porch and not just the back porch so we can see people walk by and say hello.
- Engage on the neighborhood social media platforms
- Join the Neighborhood Association
- Go to neighborhood events
- Walk around the neighborhood after dinner
- Pray for and with our neighbors
- Carpool to kids school events
As you can see some of these things are big and some are small. The point is to get to know and love those around you. Find a need and fill it. Make the environment one that is better for having been there.
I want to be clear though, we have gained so much FROM our neighbors as well. They have taught us things, helped us move furniture and been with us on hard days and good days. We have served our neighborhood together and they have made our lives better.
One of the things that continue to break our hearts and quite frankly piss me off, is when people who move in (especially those that claim to follow Jesus), take advantage of the community for their gain and then leave as soon as possible. I understand circumstances change, but I can’t help but feel as if we are just some sort of annoyance to them before they move onto bigger and better things. Sometimes those people are the hardest ones to get along with because they are selfish instead of selfless.
Does all this mean we can’t have boundaries or that we won’t have disagreements with neighbors? Not at all. However, as Jesus followers, we have to ask ourselves, how are people experiencing me, and as a result Jesus? Am I bringing more of the attributes of the Kingdom of God to the here and now? Do people see that Jesus really is good and loving as a result of how we walk out our faith or not? Do people around me feel seen, heard, and cared for? If we move, would people notice or miss me?
We will always be a people of imperfection, but my prayer is that we’ll always be leaving places better than we found them. Leave the aroma of Christ and not just an aroma.
God is always at work in our neighborhoods, let’s show up and be a part of it.