When we purchased our home 6 years ago there was no doubt in my mind that this is where God wanted us to be. The sheer number of it-has-to-be-a-God-thing scenarios that were necessary to make the purchase a reality were a testimony to the fact that this was the place. Our “promised land” I remember calling it. Well over the past few years I’ve been reminded of the fact that the Israelites were surrounded by enemies that bordered their Promised Land. Since moving into our home there have been several occasions that have left us feeling that we are living in the shadow of hostility. It’s a very unsettling feeling, and one I work hard to avoid. I like to think of myself as a likable person. A peace keeper. Someone who is kind and respectful of everyone. But what do you do when you’re hated without cause? When someone refuses to speak to you or dislikes you even though you’ve done nothing wrong? How do you love your neighbor when your neighbor sets themselves up as the enemy? It’s not easy, I tell you! In fact, I’ve determined that on my own, it’s impossible.
Our next door neighbor is a miserable kind of woman. I suspect she likely struggles with either extreme sadness, smoldering anger, or both, and possibly some type of mental illness. Honestly, I’ve never met anyone else quite like her. She is boldly rude – she’ll completely ignore you when you say “Hi” to her and she is just 3 feet away from you! She’s reclusive, rarely out of her house, and except for when her husband is home from work, no one ever visits. When she does talk, she has a propensity for flying off the handle. She has cussed me out for landscaping the side of my house that borders their lot, and yelled at the cable guy for burying new wires on the lot line (a utility easement). Most of the time she is passive aggressive, and prefers to show her disdain by setting up little flags to mark the lot line, or spraying RoundUp on her grass inches from my perennials and from where I am sitting weeding my garden. To sum it up, she is C R A Z Y!
Many of the neighbors on the street have lived in their homes for 25-35 years and have witnessed her antics before. Apparently our neighbor has always been this way, so I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but her proximity makes the hostility impossible for me to ignore. I wish I had my husband’s gift for apathy about such matters, but unfortunately I’m plagued with a deep sensitivity that I just can’t seem to shake. I know I didn’t do anything to deserve the hostility, so there’s nothing to make amends for; no way to resolve the problem. You can’t fix crazy. The result is a feeling of both helplessness and hopelessness. I hate the tension, but I’m powerless to remove it.
I wish I were writing this post to share with you the secret for how to love your enemies, or even just the annoying people in your life, but unfortunately, I don’t have this mastered. If I’m honest, her behavior has driven me to hate her back. Have I ever mentioned that I hate hating people? It’s not therapeutic at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. It eats away at you; consumes you. As soon as I think I’ve made progress with letting go, she does something that brings all of my emotions flooding back. I’ve managed self-restraint – I don’t yell back at her, and I don’t stoop to her level of passive aggression. Those are merely a display of outward discipline on my part though. They speak nothing about the true state of my heart. If I look at my heart, I’m not doing a very good job at loving my neighbor; the second most important commandment no less! The problem is, I can’t make myself love her. I’ve tried to conjure up compassion for her by thinking of how miserable her life must be living with so much bitterness. I’ve tried to imagine all of the horrible things that could have happened in her past to make her this way. I’ve tried logic and reasoning to realize that I could have worse neighbors, and that it has nothing to do with me so I shouldn’t let it bother me. None of it has worked. I have concluded that loving the unlovable truly is something that only Jesus is good at. I’ve also realized that He knows we don’t have this capacity within ourselves.
So, I’m changing my strategy. I’m trying (albeit sometimes through gritted teeth) to pray for my enemy. I’m not saying I don’t still pray for God to simply change her or to move her, but I’m trying also to pray that she can overcome her demons. More importantly, I’ve begun praying for myself. Many years ago, on a junior high retreat, I felt God put His love for other people in my heart. Way more love than I’d ever had for strangers before, or ever experienced since. I need Him to do that again. The Holy Spirit lives in me. I have the power of Jesus’ love inside of me. I just need to lay down my own hate, my own sin, my own bitterness, and ask Him to change my heart to be like His. I’m praying He will. More than that, I believe that He will if I continue to surrender because I know it’s what He wants for me. It’s what He wants for all of us. To love with a supernatural love. A love that doesn’t make sense. A love that isn’t just. A love that isn’t deserved. A love that is merciful.
Lord, I confess my anger and bitterness toward my neighbor. You have called me to love her, but I don’t know how. I need You to change my heart. I need You to give me Your love for the people around me. I need Your help to let go of the hate and anxiety I feel, and I need You to help me accept Your love and peace instead. Please God, bring peace to our situation, and let this promised land that You’ve given us be a place of joy and refuge for our family. In Jesus’ name, Amen.