We all know this command by heart:
31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” source
But how many of us really know how to love our neighbor as ourselves? What does it look like? My husband and I discussed this a lot recently, based upon the times we've felt unloved. Those discussions led to the four How To Love Your Neighbor points I'm sharing today:
1. Acknowledge Your Neighbor
The first step in loving your neighbor is to acknowledge your neighbor. Don't drive by your neighbor without waving. Say hello to fellow employees and churchgoers in the halls. Shake hands with newcomers at church. Greet the check-out employee, the meat workers, the produce workers, the mailman, the custodian, the support staff at hospitals and cafeterias. If you're shy like me this doesn't come naturally, but that's no excuse for leaving these simple, loving gestures out of our social repertoire. God created us to need love and the first step is to be noticed.
Did you know that 60% of Smart-phone users are addicted to their phones? (A fact gathered from the John Tesh radio show featured on my Christian radio station.) Do you go to the library with your kids and see all the moms with their eyes on various electronic devices, rather than on their kids? That tells you a little about the human need to be noticed. Are they checking e-mail or social networks? Some of them are self-involved to a fault, but others are isolated daily with their kids and simply feel unloved. They're looking to see who acknowledged them.
In the past people lived in one place longer and interacted with their neighbors more. Mothers were mostly homemakers and they networked around the neighborhood. We've become more mobile and more diverse, but our love needs haven't changed. It's just that now we meet our needs in other ways, such as online. This method comes with drawbacks, but used wisely it's a blessing.
2. Acknowledge Their Pain
I sent Christmas letters out last year to friends and family, some of whom hadn't heard from us in two years. Simple information about Beth's arthritis diagnosis was tucked into a paragraph. Even though we got reciprocal letters or cards back, not a single person acknowledged that my daughter suffers from something painful. Not a single person said they'd pray, even. My husband took it in stride, but I was hurt. Beth's life changed drastically, as did our whole family's, and it meant nothing to people, or so it seemed. Pain is an expected part of life, but it still smarts. It still needs to be acknowledged.
Recently I've come across a few well-written blog posts detailing an individual's or a family's pain and suffering. Countless comments mentioned how inspiring the stories were, but very few people added, "I'm sorry you've experienced such terrible pain...I'm sorry your husband left you...I'm sorry you deal with chronic pain...I'm sorry you're suffering from a broken heart, etc.
When we comment that a story is inspiring, we're writing from our own perspective. We're focusing on how it helps us. It's a nice thing to say and the writer will feel glad they've taken the time to recount their story, but will they feel loved?
If someone loses a baby, a spouse, a job, a home, mention it in conversation. Ask how they are doing in the grieving process. Dana, who lost her son when a dresser crushed him, mentioned early on how it hurt when people skirted around the death of her son in everyday conversation, as though the topic were taboo. Nothing hurts more than saying nothing. If you can't find the words, simply give a hug and whisper "I'm praying"; or send a card that says, "I'm so sorry you're hurting. I am praying for you." Nothing elaborate or poetic required.
Usually the people who acknowledge pain are those who've experienced pain. If you've been spared serious personal pain, you'll have to try harder to acknowledge the pain of others. Pray for a compassionate heart. Pray that you'll not judge, but love.
3. Lend Your Support
~ Don't ask the new mother just home from the hospital if she needs anything. Of course she does. She needs meals, diapers, babysitting, grocery runs. She also needs laundry folded. If she knows you and trusts you, just show up at the door and tell her you love her and want to be her maid or babysitter that day. "Don't worry about the house", you add. "I've been there."
~ If you know someone is having a surgery, bring a meal. Or call and ask how it went. Pick up some milk, bread, and fruit for them and drop it by. People don't often ask. Maybe they're too overwhelmed or too disorganized to know they need help, until it feels too late.
~ If someone lives alone or is still single, invite them to your home. Or stop by and visit. Give the gift of your time, especially to those with little or no family around. The sense of isolation can be terrible for them, but they may be too ashamed or proud to articulate it.
~ If someone is struggling with infertility, don't ask if they're pregnant yet, but do ask how they're doing.
~ Participate in a prayer network and really commit to praying. Or start a prayer network if your church or friend group doesn't have one.
4. Learn The Love Languages
Have you heard of the Five Love Languages? We all have a primary and a secondary way we'd like to receive love--quality time, physical touch, acts of service, affirming words, receiving gifts. We tend to express love the way we'd like to receive it, rather than the way our neighbor needs to receive it. I encourage you to learn more about the languages by clicking the link and having each person in your home take the love language quiz. Apparently we all have an apology language too.
So there you have our two cents on loving your neighbor.
1. Acknowledge your neighbor
2. Acknowledge their pain
3. Lend your support
4. Learn their love language
What have we left out? Please share what's been important to you over the years.