I couldn’t believe it! New neighbors had finally moved into the vacant house next door.
Prospective friends! Do they have kids? Do they like board games? Are they awesome? My mind began to run wild with the potential of new BFFs living just a stone’s throw away. But those daydreams came to a screeching halt after a few interactions that struck me as odd: they avoided eye contact, ignored my “hello” waves, and practically ran away from me when I tried to strike up conversation. I soon realized they were neither renting, nor had they purchased the house they were occupying. They were straight-up SQUATTERS. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
A bank representative came to ask me questions about the folks occupying the home still owned by Wells Fargo. I had a few questions of my own. What were they DOING in there?! Were they making drugs? I have KIDS! Why do I have to live next door to shady people? Seriously, who just moves into a vacant home??
I proceeded to live my life inside my own lines: attending church, teaching my kids about Jesus, and hosting a Bible study in my home. Of course, I filled our Bible study friends in on every juicy detail about our new illegal neighbors. Then I cracked open my Bible and gave lip service of my gratefulness for the relentless grace and love that God lavishes on me–the same grace and love that I’m called to lavish on those around me.
“Go in peace, Bible study friends! I love you all dearly. Just look out for those creeper neighbors as you get in your cars. Don’t make eye contact, lest they mug you. God bless you all!”
The squatters came and went for three months. The house lights would turn on at strange hours, and they had some kind of workshop in their garage. I speculated, I wondered, I gossiped.
What a Pharisee.
But God was working on my heart. After about two-and-a-half months of resenting my neighbors, I felt a gentle nudge: Hey, so remember all that basic, Gospel 101 stuff about loving your neighbor as yourself? Yes, of course I remember. But surely that command didn’t refer to THESE neighbors. They are here illegally. Can’t I just stick to loving the other sweet neighbors across the street, instead? They’re much easier to love.
I resisted, I rationalized, I searched for any excuse to ignore this command.
Then the gentle nudge started to feel like more like a big slap in my face. Mark 2: 16-17 came to mind, where Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees, side-eying Jesus, asked his disciples: “‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
And here I stood, claiming that I was committed to living out God’s word, while completely missing the second most important commandment. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Galatians 5:14).
Two and a half months passed before my head knowledge of God’s Word reached my heart. TWO AND A HALF MONTHS until I looked at the 20-something-year-old girl next door and thought, Hey, that’s someone’s daughter. More importantly, that’s God’s daughter. What if no one has ever told her there’s more for her than this? So I tried to forge a relationship. I brought her a bag of oranges from our tree. She gratefully thanked me, saying she almost never eats fresh produce. I asked her about her life. She was guarded.
I started thinking about this girl all the time. I just wanted to hug her and tell her, “You and I are the same! God sees us exactly the same, we are created in His image, and no matter what you’ve done, Jesus paid for it.”
About a week after that initial conversation, I pulled into my driveway with a car full of kids and groceries. My neighbors stood in their driveway, all their belongings strapped to their beat-up car. A locksmith and a bank representative escorted them out. Oh no! I thought.They’re leaving already?! I ran my kids inside and turned on an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, filled an empty Trader Joe’s bag with oranges and ran into my driveway. I wanted to tell the girl what I should have told her two months ago, but when I looked up, the car was gone. As quietly as they had moved in, they moved out.
I stood in my driveway and cried. I missed it. For three months, I gossiped, I judged, I hated, I condemned. And I missed the most basic tenet of my faith: love God, love people. How could I have been so dense?
Some families willingly move into dangerous neighborhoods for the sake of sharing the Gospel with their neighbors. I had the luxury of staying in my comfortable home, in my safe neighborhood, with a mission field conveniently moving in next door to me. I missed the opportunity to live missionally because I let my desire for comfort speak louder than the truth of the Gospel.
I missed it. I messed up. As I stood in my driveway crying like a baby I also knew that God’s patience and grace were covering me. Where do I go from here? I could wallow in my failures. Or I could repent, get up, brush off the dust and do better next time.
Can you relate? Where are you allowing your desire for comfort to speak louder than the truth of the gospel?