Good Neighbors in Bad Times

Brad Carter, CCC’s former director, used to say that people can be in a neighborhood for years without ever knowing who’s doing the living and dying next door, across the street, and down the block. He was right.

Nobody likes to think about death, or dying, or any of the activities associated with that, but obviously, it happens. You’ve been meaning to get over to a particular neighbor’s house and introduce yourself, but you just haven’t done it yet. But one day, to your sadness, you notice a wreath on the door, and lots of people you haven’t seen before are going in and out of the house, with lots of cars up and down the street. What should you do? And if you go, what should you say?

Here’s a little secret – almost nobody knows what to say. But we should go anyway. And while I am certainly no expert, in the spirit of “neighborliness,” let me offer a few thoughts about some ways we can be a good neighbor at such times.

  • DO go visit them. When we lose someone we love, often we just need to know that others have noticed. A simple, brief visit is enough to convey that sentiment.
  • DO take some food. People often say they’re too upset to eat, but what they really mean is, they’re too upset to worry about preparing something to eat. And it doesn’t have to be fancy, or even homemade. A bag of chips, sandwich stuff, maybe a pan of brownies – these will be deeply appreciated.
  • DO make a memorial donation to their family’s favorite charity or local church. It doesn’t have to be a large amount – this is a case where it really is the thought that counts. A gift of even $10 or $20 in the deceased’s name is always deeply appreciated.

And on the other hand,

  • DON’T worry about what to say. All the eloquence in the world is not as important as simply being there. Just introduce yourself, mention that you are a neighbor, and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” If they want to talk, by all means, engage in the conversation with them, but don’t feel like you have to keep on making small talk.
  • DON’T say, “I know how you feel.” This is not about you. Later, if you and your neighbor become friends, there will be plenty of time for sharing feelings. And it’s probably best not to ask a lot of questions. Again, if they want to talk, they will.
  • DON’T feel like you have to stay a long time. Five minutes is better than 30. This is not a social call, and the idea is simply to share a kind word and acknowledge their loss.

Losing a loved one is never easy. But just knowing that people around us notice and care can mean so much. So please, don’t be afraid to reach out – you may never know the difference you will make to someone who is hurting.

Called Into Community

According to Genesis 1, as God was creating the universe, He would pause from time to time, examine his work and pronounce that it was “good.” After God created our first parents, he surveyed them, along with everything else he had made and pronounced that it was all “very good.”

Then we come to Genesis 2, and for the first time, God said something was “not good.” When he saw the man alone, God said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.”

It seems we are hard-wired for relationships. God created us to live in community.

That shouldn’t come as a galloping surprise to anyone. God himself exists within a perfect community, a union we understand as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but one, living in perfect community within themselves.

In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let US make humans in our existence” – a reference, I believe, to that Divine Community. Later, when God would give Israel the “Shema” prayer – “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4) – the word translated “one” is the Hebrew word, “echad.” It’s the same word that describes the “one flesh” of husband and wife. One as a union.

When God gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), it’s important to note that the first commandment begins with, “I AM the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt; you will have no other gods besides me.” The foundation of the entire law was the covenant relationship between God and his people.

God described himself to Moses by saying, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He was defining who he was, at least in part, by the relationships he had. Throughout the days of the prophets, God was constantly calling his people and inviting them into a closer relationship. Sending Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s desire to be in community with his people.

According to Luke 4, when Jesus was beginning his public ministry, he read the scripture from Isaiah 61 about proclaiming good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, setting captives free, and rebuilding the ancient ruins – all dealing with restoring broken relationships.

In Mark 12, when he was asked about the most important commandment, Jesus said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The fact is, God has made us so that we need each other. In Romans 14:7, the Apostle Paul says, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” We are called to live in community. Indeed, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that God has “committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.”

That community sometimes looks different. We are called the “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2), to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep,” (Rom. 12:15), and to “live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).

In Revelation 21:2, heaven is described as “The New Jerusalem.” A city. Not a suburb. Not a farm. A city. And city implies neighbors close by, and relationships all around us.

Genuine community is risky. Relationships take a lot of work, and can sometimes be messy. But God has reached out to us, and desires to be in relationship with us, and that is precisely the way we are called to reach out to one another.