Sometimes loving a neighbor means walking away.
So often I am heard preaching a message of love.
A message I truly believe in. I believe we are all called to love God, ourselves and our neighbors. And, I do believe that our neighbor is everyone on the planet. But what happens when spending time with a neighbor can prove to be a difficult or even volatile endeavor?
We have all had people in our lives that have created challenges. We have all had neighbors that have been difficult to love. And if we are honest, we too have been difficult to love at times.
So, what do we do, when loving our neighbor is not met with songs of joy?
Many advisers will say that we need to do whatever we can to talk to the people we are having difficulty with and try to work things out.
I do believe in this.
I think many of our conflicts can be worked out through honest and open conversations. We can find peace often when we are open with our feelings. Sometimes this takes time. It takes each party owning their own behaviors. Each person focusing on the issues without villainizing the other person. In working through issues and feelings, there can often be very loving outcomes and understandings.
There are, however, times when the best solution is to walk away.
Of course, the most obvious time is when there is abuse. No one should ever feel like they need to stay in a situation in which they are being harmed.
But there are also times when things are just not working. Times when the expression of feelings and honest conversations, for one reason or another, does not seem to work.
There are times when we just don’t mix well with others. For one reason or another, we don’t get along.
It could be personality differences.
Sometimes it’s just that we do not share a “rhythm” with someone else. One’s an introvert, one’s an extrovert, one is mature, one is immature, one likes to talk sports, one likes to read quietly, one likes to swear a lot, one does not.
It’s not that we dislike each other, but rather that we just do not have things in common. We try to get along, but conversations don’t go very far, and we find that we would rather spend our time with someone that shares more of our interests.
We do not think of each other as a bad person. We just don’t have a lot between us. And that is okay.
It could be an unwillingness to change behaviors that cause negative feelings.
I personally found the need to distance myself from another due to behaviors that continued to leave me feeling uncomfortable. The person I was with had a habit of continually speaking poorly of others, myself included.
Friends, coworkers, neighbors… it didn’t matter. The person would be very nice to people when they were present, but then talk badly of them when they were not around. They would stir up stories without facts. I was uncomfortable to hear things said about others and hurt to hear that things were being said about me.
On many occasions, I would bring up this behavior and try to encourage a more positive observation of others. But I continually found myself in situations where I felt bad due to things that were being said. Whatever I was attempting to try to curb this behavior, was not working.
I finally had to admit that I couldn’t rectify this situation. And I had to distance myself. And that’s okay
It might be that our values are so different.
Recently, I was told of a story about a person that identifies as lesbian. This identity is obviously a part of who she is. So, when she went to a church where the pastor spoke harshly against this lifestyle, she personally chose to go to a different church setting. One that would accept her for who she is.
She had attempted to speak with the pastor in hopes of achieving some understanding, but she was met with some hurtful responses.
She could have chosen to stay, but she decided the best thing for her and her spirit, was to leave. And that’s okay.
The fact is that, no matter how much we want to get along with everyone, there will be times when we will not. Each person is unique, and each situation can vary. There will be times when our peace is found by removing ourselves from unpeaceful situations.
None if this means we do not love our neighbors.
It just means we cannot always control what is going on.
If I am in a situation that is hurtful or uncomfortable, I may not be able to change the course of things and alter the friction between me and another. But I may be able to choose how I work through it.
I believe there is something in this world that is bigger than we are. I believe in a Holy presence of God that surrounds us. I believe there are times when we cannot mend things, but God can.
There are stories in the bible, of Jesus sending out disciples to communicate the love of Christ with people. To share love and community with their neighbors. Some of the people are more than happy to be part of this, but there are others that would prefer not to have anything to do with this.
Jesus understood this.
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” -Luke 10:5
When Jesus told his disciples, to walk away from the people that did not welcome them, I do not believe it meant that Christ was walking away for good.
Ever struggle with a pickle jar?
Some of us have. We’ve grabbed that new jar and tried with all our might to unscrew the vacuum sealed lid. We try with our strength. We try other means, like running it underwater, tapping it on a counter, but for whatever reason, we find that we are just not the one’s to “fix” this situation.
But this doesn’t mean we throw the jar away and never have a pickle again.
Sometimes, in order to get the jar open, we must walk away from it and let someone else have a try.
When we frequently find ourselves in a clash of sorts with a neighbor, it might be best for us to walk away, and let God do what God does.
The people that sent the disciples away, did not miss their only chance to experience the love of Christ. Just like many of us, God has been there many times in our lives.
There might have been people in our lives that wanted to share the peace of Christ with us, but for one reason or another, we may have rejected them. They may not have been able to get through. They may have walked away. But God never does.
We may have been a very difficult jar to open.
But God keeps loving us.
The same can be said of the people in our lives. If we do not get along with another person, if we find ourselves needing to walk away, it does not mean that we must stop praying for them.
Like the jar, we can give the situation to God.
We can still pray for the person with a different personality.
We can pray that they feel loved for who they are. We can celebrate that we have differences and that all people are special. We can find peace in knowing that just because personalities may be different, it doesn’t mean one is better than the other.
We can pray for the people that do not share our values.
While we might want to step back to avoid clashes, we can still pray for God’s love to fill all hearts. We can pray for the best of all people.
If we find ourselves in hurtful places, we can leave those situations, but still, pray for God’s healing on all sides. We can pray deeper than surface behaviors and ask God to be at the heart of all things.
Walking away doesn’t mean that we must have an enemy. We do not have to justify our actions by demonizing another person. No conflict has ever been fully healed by inviting hatred.
If we offer peace and it is rejected for one reason or another, we can sometimes keep the peace by letting go.
And by letting God be God.