Remember to love the people who live closest to you.
by Maria Goff
I GREW UP THINKING A NEIGHBORHOOD had neatly arranged houses on tree-lined streets and friendly dogs licking the hands of happy mail carriers who were more likely to deliver Valentines than bills. There were kids playing in sprinklers and station wagons in driveways. Everyone went back and forth borrowing cups of sugar, not because they needed them, but because they loved participating in acts of simple generosity. This wasn’t what my neighborhood looked like growing up, of course, but this was the neighborhood I had made up in my mind.
“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was famous. Everyone wanted to be his neighbor. He invited young people into his neighborhood every week on his famous television show. People like me who didn’t even like sweaters wanted to wear one just because Mr. Rogers did, and they wanted to be like him. His sweaters became both iconic and emblematic of the goodness and kindness of being neighbors. What most people didn’t know is his mother made all of his sweaters. Who wouldn’t love a guy who wore his mom’s hand-knit sweaters?
Fred Rogers went into television for one simple reason: He didn’t like what he saw on TV. I think we each get to do the same in our neighborhoods. If you don’t like what you see in yours, you have the opportunity to change it. It doesn’t need to look like Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood; in fact, it’s better if it doesn’t. His is already wonderful. Make yours look like yours. With or without the sweater, love looks great on everyone.
Neighborhoods come in all different shapes and sizes. I’ve never been to the International Space Station, but I’ve stayed in a Kibbutz community not far from the Dead Sea in Israel and have seen how the people there live in a collective community with one another. The Kibbutz is located near the lowest spot on the earth. The Space Station is located at the highest point above it. Each of these neighborhoods are different, yet like yours and mine they are defined by the people who live there, not the location or the structures. The Kibbutz isn’t filled with people who are identical, the Space Station isn’t filled with astronauts who are the same, and your neighborhood isn’t either.
We all want the same things in life — love, purpose, and connection. It’s that simple and that hard at the same time.
When a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, Jesus told him it was to love God with all of his heart and soul and mind and to love his neighbors. This means the ones living just outside our doors and the ones inside our homes, too. The ones at the bottom of the earth and the ones orbiting it and everyone in between. Loving our neighbors means loving everyone. Instead of getting stuck figuring out who and where my neighbors really are, I decided to just love the people who live the closest to me.
This isn’t always easy. The hometown crowd can be tough. Jesus’ neighbors probably thought He was better at making wooden picture frames than making bread and fish out of nothing. This isn’t a reason to not start with the ones who don’t think we’re anything special. It’s probably why Jesus said to start with these people. The Bible says a prophet isn’t without honor except in his own neighborhood, with his own relatives, and in his own household. I’m no prophet, but I know what it feels like to be misunderstood by the people I’m always around. You do, too. I think the reason for this is simple. They know all about our little peccadilloes, our faults, or our typicalness. It’s the very reason Jesus said to start there—because it’s the place where we could practice keeping it real.
Excerpt taken from Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want by Maria Goff (B&H Publishing, 2017).
Maria Goff has made a career out of loving her family, serving her neighbors, and turning houses into homes. She is married to Bob Goff, whom she calls the most helpful and interesting man in the world. They’ve journeyed to Uganda, Nepal, and Northern Iraq to start schools for marginalized kids. Maria and Bob live in San Diego, Calif.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (July 2017). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.