"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." John 13:34I have a neighbor who is moving. Her family has lived near us for a couple of years and despite all of her efforts to get to know me, I have kept her at a distance. She is quite a bit younger than I am and has lots of little kids. I found her uncomfortably open when we first met and a little too willing to sit on my couch for long periods of time and reveal all the personal details of her life with me. I have not been a good listener. I have not been sincere. And I definitely have not been a good friend.
This week when her family has needed more help than usual in preparing for this move, I was openly resentful about being asked to bring a meal and help her pack. I saw her plight as self inflicted and therefore relieved myself of any personal responsibility to help her. I made the mistake of voicing my disdain out loud to my very understanding, very compassionate husband who did not for one second tolerate or encourage my complaining. He calmly and quietly pointed out that what I could see was probably not all there was to see in the situation. So, I held my tongue and made her dinner.
Then on Monday evening, I received a text from this neighbor as I was on my way home from a very long round trip to drop the Scout Master off at the airport.
"Do you have any dishwashing soap? I'm exhausted from packing all day and the last thing I want to do is hand wash these dishes. But I don't usually use the dishwasher."
Instantly I could hear the conflict in my head. She doesn't use the dishwasher...really?? Should I text the kids and have one of them run some soap over to her? Should I just go over there myself and wash her dishes? Why could she not just ask one of her kids to wash the dishes and leave the rest of us out of the equation entirely? (yep I know, totally shameful, huh?)
Since I was sitting in traffic, I was forced to wait awhile on my response, and that was a good thing. I had a few minutes to think about what she might really need and what I could really do to be helpful. I decided to stop at the grocery store on the way home.
I texted her back, "I'll be right over. I'm at Kroger. Do you need anything else?"
Her response, "No, but I just sent Child #2 to the store with some money we borrowed from his (5 year old) sister, so if you see him, will you bring him home?"
At that moment, I realized that the Scout Master had been totally and completely right when he said there was more to this situation than I could see. All my complaining went away and I was instantly filled with unrecognizable compassion for my neighbor and her family (and a truck load of guilt.) I stopped at Kroger and picked up a bag of dishwasher packets and a few things for breakfast for their family the next morning. It was a small effort, but done with much more kindness and sincerity than I had had when I made dinner for her on Sunday night. I looked for her son in the store, but didn't see him, so I just drove straight to her house. Her kids were thrilled about muffins and orange juice for breakfast the next day. And my neighbor was so happy to have dishwasher packets.
Instead of rushing out of her house like I usually do, I lingered for a little while and asked her about the days and weeks ahead and what would be waiting for them when they reached their destination. Although they are hopeful, there are definitely challenges still ahead. They have existing financial burdens that may or may not be relieved anytime soon, and they are moving into a less than ideal, semi-permanent living situation. All of a sudden, I remembered with startling clarity the situation we had lived in not too many years ago, and my heart instantly ached for my neighbor. She is moving to the very situation that we just came from. Fortunately we always had enough to cover the essentials, but we had so little extra that things like Pop Tarts and fast food were luxuries that we didn't see very often. The kids were involved in exactly ZERO extra curricular activities unless they were free or I could work out some kind of trade. We had no health insurance so I crossed my fingers every time one of the kids would ride their bikes or jump on a trampoline. It was a different kind of stress than I have ever known and one that I don't want to relive anytime soon.
But I also don't want to forget it.
I had not realized before that moment that my neighbor and I were a lot more alike than different. She didn't WANT to ask anyone for help; she NEEDED to. When I stopped long enough to actually HEAR what she was saying, I realized that I had the ability to connect with this woman. Just for a second I saw myself in her. In a 30 minute conversation, our relationship changed. I went from being irritated by her to loving her and being genuinely concerned for her. I spent the next few minutes giving her all of my handy "how to raise a family in Utah with next to no money" hints. And then I hugged her for the first time in two years.
"To love is to recognize yourself in another." - Eckhart TolleAs I drove home I thought about all the people who helped us while we were living in Utah and again when we finally realized it was time to move. Thankfully, someone took the time to counsel my husband about a ten year plan for his life, even though he probably would have rather spent time with his own family. Thankfully, all those men loaded a truck for us without worrying about how many times they might have helped us in the past. And thankfully, someone was kind enough to drop an envelope on our doorstep one night with $300 in it, even though they didn't know whether our challenges were self inflicted or not.
Jesus wants us to love everyone. That's a Primary lesson, for heaven's sake! I've taught that for a million years, but apparently didn't learn it until just this week. It's a hard thing to admit that I'm not as compassionate as I would like to be. I definitely have regrets about the things I missed in this relationship, but I hope I won't make the mistake of missing them in the next. We're really all more the same than we are different. There is opportunity to connect everywhere, not just with the relationships that appear effortless. Especially with the less obvious relationships, I think we have an obligation to find ways to love them and to look hard enough to recognize ourselves in them. It's there.