February 15, 2012
Love Gets Smaller
As I type these words, I can’t help feeling like some Christian Carrie Bradshaw, inviting readers into the details of my day-to-day existence as it relates to love. With Valentine’s Day just on our heels, please don’t assume I’m talking about romantic love. No, this episode of “Justice In the City” (or the Suburbs or Wherever You Find Yourself) concerns itself with something much broader, and in many ways more difficult, than eros.
In the almost two years we’ve been in our condo, my husband and I have gotten to know our three neighbors pretty well. There’s Judy, an elderly woman who lives with her miniature poodle and sometimes shares her small space with her divorced son and his two children. And there’s Jon, who’s in his fifties and has cerebral palsy. Despite his disability he lives a very independent life, working for the county convalescence home and creating elaborate landscapes for his extensive model train collection. And then there’s Christa. She’s also living alone (her faithful dog, Joey, died last fall) and in her seventies. She still loves to paint and sculpt, and she’s full of fascinating stories of her youth in Germany, where she played in the Black Forest, took boat cruises down the Rhine river and lost her brother in World War II (he fought on the German side).
Lately I’ve been reading two books that have been shaping the way I view my relationship to these neighbors: The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Small Things with Great Love by Margot Starbuck. The first asks us to consider the power of staying in one place. The second challenges us to consider the power of doing small, manageable things to show God’s love. Here’s a video of Margot talking about the concept.
So what does that look like in my life? I work full time, and currently my husband is working out of town and coming home on the weekends, so I have my hands full taking care of my nine-month-old son (you single parents out there deserve a medal for what you do each day!), doing laundry, paying bills, making food, shopping for groceries and generally keeping the home fires burning. In this busy season of life, it’s easy to get bogged down by all my responsibilities and feel as though doing anything to show God’s love to a world in need is simply beyond my abilities, much less my inclinations. How can I possibly show love to anyone, and does anything I can do really matter?
As I’ve prayed over these questions, Margot’s encouragement has been so refreshing. Instead of making me feel guilty because I can’t run off and solve all the world’s problems, she has empowered me to look for ways I can give to those around me in the life he’s given me. God has reminded me that I don’t have to go far to find people who need his love—in fact there are three of them living less than twenty feet from me who I see on an almost daily basis. Together we’ve already gone through a major flooding of our neighborhood, losing power and huddling by an emergency lamp under the staircase during a storm and fighting three feet of snow last winter.
In these times and smaller daily interactions, God has already been bringing along opportunities to do small things to show love like:
• Hugging Christa and praying with her when we met in the hall on the day after her sister died in Germany. She was so sad that she couldn’t afford to return home for the funeral.
Sometimes I wonder what impact these small things have on our neighbors’ lives, really. I mean, I’m not helping Christa with her financial stresses. I can’t pay for her to go back to Germany. I don’t have more room to offer Judy when she’s got her son and his kids crammed into her place with her. I can’t do any heavy lifting for Jon or somehow take away his disability.
Recently we thought we might have to move again, and we let our “community” know about our impending change. That’s when I realized that all these little things do add up to something. Christa’s eyes filled with tears at the news. “Oh, I really wish you didn’t have to move,” she said looking away. “It means so much to me, knowing you’re here …”
I will admit that there are plenty of times I don’t feel like even doing small things for these folks. I have a lot on my plate, and it takes energy to think of others after I’ve already thought of myself, much less to put them first! But when I remember the look on Christa’s face, I know why I do it. Because showing her love is a way of communicating the love I receive from Christ. Because being a friend to an older person who is lonely is one way I can give just a bit of that love back to Jesus. Because maybe one day I’ll have built enough trust and relationship capital to share directly with Jon, Judy or Christa about the God I know and love, and invite them to come further into his agape. It’s my small way of working to bring about God’s kingdom of love on earth.
It looks like we won’t be moving anytime soon after all, thankfully, so there’s still time to cultivate these relationships. I think I’ll take a bowl of chili down to Christa tonight. In one way it’s not much. In another, it’s everything.
What about you? How can you do a small thing with great love for those God has placed in your life?