How to be Neighborly in the Suburbs
“Hi! What’s your name?”
My two and a half year old asks this question of everyone who crosses our paths. No one is immune – the grocery bagger, the person at the drive-through window, the passerby on our walk, the unsuspecting shopper sharing our aisle at the store. Her follow-up question to me is what stops me in my tracks.
“Mommy, is that your friend?”
I come up with an acceptable response, but I always think, she’s not my friend now, but she could be. Why isn’t she?
Living in the suburbs, we are surrounded by walls. We have an eight-foot privacy fence, the walls of our home behind that, shutters and shades on our windows, and all of our outdoor living is done in the backyard. We often go on walks but are met with similar scenes everywhere we go – fences, walls, and empty front yards.
Should I happen upon someone who has ventured beyond their walls, I smile, nod, sometimes muster up a weak “hi,” and then continue on with my day, my schedule, my comfort.
My, my, my.
The reality is - living in isolation is selfish. I can make excuses all day about why I don’t stop and initiate the first steps of a relationship, but ultimately, selfishness drives me away to serve my agenda over the possibility of making a new friend and serving others.
I’m working on overcoming this selfish habit in my own life by watching my daughter and learning from her bold selflessness.
1. Stop what I’m doing.
Allowing others to interrupt us is the first practice I’m working on embracing. Even with my children, it’s so easy for me to say, “Wait just a minute. Mommy’s almost done.” But even then, the moment has passed and we have missed our opportunity to share in the joy of our child.
I let moments pass almost every time I encounter a stranger. Pausing to allow someone to invade my agenda, thoughts, or day, is a gift that we are giving others. Not only are we stopping our sometimes selfish pursuits, but we are creating a space to let someone in. We are saying, “I have time for you no matter what.”
Jesus always had time for the children to distract him from his ministry. His lesson to the disciples in Matthew 19 was that the distractions were the ministry. The kingdom belonged to such as these (v. 14) and they belong to the people I encounter daily, too.
2. Say “Hi! What’s your name?”
We’ve already done the hard part; we’ve allowed ourselves to be interrupted. Now, let’s just open our mouth and greet them! Adults think too hard about what comes so naturally to a child. Turning strangers into acquaintances is as easy as a “hello,” but we make this simple task difficult when we start to worry about our image and what people might think of us in the process.
We let our pride in our identities become more important than building bridges and making friends. We are selfish with our individuality and hesitate to share ourselves because of fear. No one is going to leave a conversation offended if your goal is to know them.
Let’s stop being selfish with ourselves and give generously to those we might receive much from.
3. Linger long enough to listen.
It doesn’t work to wave, say “hey,” and then head in the opposite direction. In doing this, we’ve only satisfied our own checklist. I know I have even patted myself on the back for initiating a conversation. The issue with this mindset is that a conversation involves two parties, and we’ve only allowed yourself to be involved by walking away.
Here again, selfishness has reared its ugly head. By walking away, we are satisfying our goal of making contact without allowing the other person to participate in our pause. The distraction is the ministry. Linger in it.
4. Come back for more.
It doesn’t matter whom my daughter speaks with, she always ends her conversations with, “Bye bye! See you soon!” She truly wants to come back and talk with the new friend she has made. It brings her joy to cultivate relationships, so much that she is willing to drop what she’s doing, engage a stranger, ask questions, answer honestly, and then make a promise.
Sometimes reconnecting with a new acquaintance isn’t possible, but changing our mindset is. If we go through life expecting to never see people again, it gives us the freedom to be selfish, trite, and cursory. If we meet people thinking that perhaps we might run into them soon, or even make a connection that we want to foster, then we lay aside our selfish desires and make it happen.
These divine appointments all throughout our day matter. These people matter. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these! What a mantra to live by. No walls, fences, or shades can shut out the love of God when we choose to be faithful with the moments we are given.
Today, I’m choosing to influence my perspective and end my encounters with, “See you soon,” because we just never know, and this distraction could be my greatest ministry opportunity if I let it.
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com
Sarah Elizabeth Finch is a wife to Jake, mother of two children under two, and a storyteller at heart. Outside the home she works contract as a medical Speech-Language Pathologist and volunteers with Student Ministries at her church, discipling a small group of girls from sixth grade through high school. She is passionate about uncovering beautiful stories in seemingly mundane moments. Some of her life-long goals include getting an MFA, running a marathon, writing a book, and seeing her children know Jesus. Connect with her on on her website, or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.