A fresh take on "Love your neighbor"

Sometimes a slight twist of our perspective leads to major changes.

Blog. Couple looking at water. 8.16That happened to my husband and me the week our entire family went to summer camp on the shore of Lake Michigan.

At the time we lived on and operated a dairy and grain farm, with all the constant responsibility that implies, plus we had four lively children.

Between cows and crops and kids, both of us were running on fumes by July and needed a break.

Needed time.

Needed to find each other again.

Then we heard of a long-established, well-respected Christian family camp. We could drive there from our Illinois farm.

And, oh bliss! Every day would offer age-appropriate programs and daytime activities for kids and teens, all supervised by well-screened youth counselors and leaders.   

 No cooking. No cleaning. No kids during most of the day, with family free time in the evenings. What's not to like?

Heaven on earth, here we come!

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon 

Next morning we escorted our four girls to their age-appropriate activities, signed them in and walked away. They would be safe and have fun for the next 5 or 6 hours. Yippee!

That first day we two decided to "try out" the adult Bible study led by a pastor from the Northwest.    

He started off with something like this. "Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let's think this through. Who is my closest neighbor?"   

Silence for a moment. 

Then he hooked us with these words. "Answer: Our families. Nobody is a closer neighbor than the people we live with and share a life with. Nobody more deserves to be treated kindly and considerately.

"After all, they're the ones who every day have to deal with us. Us, with our individual quirks and habits." (Laughter.)

Then he launched into lively personal examples. As always, I took notes. 

His first illustration made me squirm 

"Every morning when I'm ready to eat breakfast with my wife, I never know what to expect. Most of the time she's a sweetheart. But sometimes, blame it on PMS, or a dreary day or whatever, she sighs a lot, slams cupboard doors and bangs the dishes around. At our house, that's not a good sign."

(I didn't look at my husband and was glad he didn't give me the elbow.)

"So every morning I have a choice. Will I give back what she is giving out? Or will I, even on those mornings, remember that my call as a Christian is to love her? 

"To love her even when I know I'm in for another tough day at work. Even if I'm not sure whether we can cover all the bills this month.  

"My first call as a Christian husband is to love my wife. Period. And a Christian wife has the same call toward her husband."

You could have heard a pin drop in that packed auditorium 

His simple words shot down every excuse and self-justification I could think of. 

"You may wonder if this principle also applies to us as Christian parents," he said. "In one word: Yes.

"Parenting is hard!" (Applause all around the room.) "For those raising children on their own it's even harder, yet the challenge remains the same: To live out love unconditionally as best they can.  

"My three children often charm me, irritate me, baffle me, embarrass me, disappoint me, bring me to tears. But it doesn't matter. That's all part of rearing these gifts of God. 

"As their dad, my call is to keep on loving them through it all." 

Each day our teacher opened his heart and helped us look deeper into living out our Christian faith and pointed out the many places the Bible says the Holy Spirit is our Helper.

His words were water on our dry, dusty hearts

Our wilted spirits slowly revived and bloomed again. The invisible distance between us melted and our usual oneness returned.

Did my husband and I immediately morph into ideal spouses who never again got impatient with each other? Not likely.

But we gained new understanding and turned a corner in our thinking. The last afternoon we promised each other we would do our best to live out love every day. 

And over the years, we did, sometimes slipping and sliding along the way but hanging on.

Jesus knew we would find this a challenge    

He tells us to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

"AS yourself."

That's the "ouch factor" in those words, isn't it? The one that sets us coming up with "Yeah, buts."

It gets easier when we remember what that study leader at Camp stressed over and over:

"Love" is more than an emotion. To live out love means to do what's loving--and this we control.   

That surprised me then and it still does

Looking at love this way means we needn't first try to dredge up emotion from within ourselves. We don't have to feel loving to demonstrate love. To act in loving ways.

When we simply do what love calls for it's not long before our feelings match our actions.  

But that's the point, isn't it? When Jesus told us to love he did not mean to love when we're in the mood and the rest of the time, forget it.

Let's keep the order straight

Jesus sums it up in Mark 12:30-31:  

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.   

After this comes:  

The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.   

We love because he [Jesus] first loved us.   1 John 4:19  NIV

Along the way, let's be kind to ourselves, too. Sometimes we will fail and need to start over, simply because we're human beings. That's a good time to remind ourselves of this truth: 

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.   Romans 5:8  ESV

Our forgiveness in Christ means we are not condemned when we fall short of loving unconditionally. Instead, we are free to start over and go on, living our faith and growing stronger.

Best of all, we're not left on our own

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.   Romans 15:13   ESV

Let us rejoice and be glad!   


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