“I just don’t want to be around people right now.”
“My job is great. It’s the people that ruin it.”
“People are so stupid.”
“There are too many people here, it makes me uncomfortable.”
“S/he and I just aren’t meant to be friends.”
“S/he’s too difficult/different/too much work/too unlike me to engage in a relationship with.”
“If I do something for him/her, he’ll/she’ll just take advantage.”
I wish I could tell you that I was quoting someone else. I’m sure, in other parts of the universe, others have had the same assertions. Perhaps, not so bold as to say them out loud, but, I’m a glutton for punishment I suppose. And feel free to question me in my line of study the last few weeks, as I’ve been a professing believer for over 15 years now and should have moved beyond the cornerstone of our faith; but it has come back again and again to me as if it were the first time and, as you know, I have trouble keeping quiet about something I feel is significant. Or not.
“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart,all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength. The second of these is this: love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
With those two, rather brief sentences read in succession, my entire world is turned inside out. How do you love God with everything you have? HOW? Love my neighbor? WHO’S MY NEIGHBOR? As in, my actual, lives in the house next door to me D who still listens to ball games on his radio on his back deck in the summertime, who loves to plant tulips in the most awkward of places and wears raybans in the rain? Or, M on the other side of us who daily backs his minivan into our retaining wall and it’s all I can do not to laugh out loud at his apologetic wave as another piece crumbles off into the sidewalk? Who is my neighbor? My friends? My enemies? My sister? My girlfriend my college I haven’t spoken to in a decade? The man that spews hateful things on the internet? Who?
Ellie and I have a weekly jaunt to Panera. Why? Because I’m a stay-at-home Mom, I’m sick of Yo Gabba Gabba and I’m tired of believing that flannel pajama pants are acceptable attire for 11:30 am. In May. So, we go once a week. Her for the Mac and Cheese, me for the endless cup of Hazelnut coffee. And, for Alex.
Alex has worked at Panera for a while now. His physical handicap makes it difficult for him to move quickly, or speak clearly, but he is a bottomless cup of joy and has quickly become one of my favorite people. He calls me Mama, squeezes Ellie’s cheek, and though it’s difficult for him to close his fingers around a cup, he carries the highchair to my table. Every. Time. He now kisses me hello, and sometimes takes his break with us. It’s perfect, really. I’m usually too tired to talk, and it’s too difficult for him to anyway. So, we sit in silence, laughing at the baby and wiping up her messes and before we leave he always squeezes my hand. A few weeks ago as I walked to our car with a sleepy baby in one arm, it hit me; Alex is my neighbor. We care for one another. I help him clean up. He helps me with Ellie. His smile makes my day. Us coming just to see him makes his. Because of our great love for Alex, he was confident enough to love us back. And the other way around. He is my neighbor because we love him not for what he can do for us, but because he’s wonderful and just knowing him makes me a better person.
There is no greater commandment than love God and love your neighbor. Not a single one. I want to do it better. I want to do it bigger. I want to love people who are hard to love. I want to love people who are easy to love. I want to know what it means to have love for God fill my entire being and be ruled by it. Before I go, I want to at least get the greatest commandment down.