[Editor's Note: The following has been adapted from an interview with "The Art of Neighboring" co-author Dave Runyon on the "Navigating Your Child's Education" podcast for parents. Make sure to check out the full conversation here.]
Parenting four children who have progressed through the primary grades and into adolescence--life is busy. Around 2010, in the midst of my children's younger years, I was pastoring a church and serving on multiple organizational boards and committees. My children had sports and were involved in many activities. We were engaged in small groups, church events, and lots of meetings. The pace of our lives was increasing steadily, and I wondered if it would reach an unsustainable level.
One place that we never were, though, was our neighborhood.
It was during this time that I heard a simple suggestion from our city mayor that caused me to stop and reflect. When asked what community and church leaders could do to help our city, the mayor said, “Be a good neighbor—this is what can transform our city.” This simple suggestion awakened a fundamental question within me: “What if, when Jesus said to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ he meant our actual neighbors?”
As I studied the scripture with this question on my mind, I noticed more and more the pace of life that Jesus models for us. I believe Jesus gets a lot done in his life, but as we see him in the Bible, He is never rushed, never hurried. He is interruptible and approachable. He sees and notices people as he goes about his life. Yet even in moments of high demand, He is not afraid to step back and take space to pray by himself or engage with others. I am convinced that the way Jesus talks about living and the way he models his life is the best way to live. There is a profound contrast between His way of living and the frenetic pace of modern society. Part of Jesus’ message to the world is, “There’s a better way to live.” We are built for rhythms of engagement and rest.
It occurred to me through this process that I cannot be a good neighbor if I am never in my neighborhood. My wife and I began to evaluate where our time was being spent and whether or not it aligned with our beliefs and what we wanted our kids to learn to prioritize. We decided to make choices that would allow us to be more present in our neighborhood. I stepped off of some of the boards I was serving on, we made tough decisions about our kids’ sports involvement, and shifted our focus to become better neighbors to the people living around us. We began to spend more time in our front yard, took more walks together, learned our neighbors' names, and began building relationships with them. We slowly began to witness that doing small things in our front yards could make a really big difference—in our neighbors' lives and also in our own lives.
The pursuit of becoming good neighbors has been an incredible journey for our children, both messy and beautiful.
Choosing to spend time with people based on geography naturally means that there will be differences in values and views. Our neighbors often think about the world differently than we do. Moments where this reality has been very obvious to our kids have inspired wonderful dialogue between my wife and me and our kids. Though at times awkward or uncomfortable, the “teachable moments” that have arisen as we’ve interacted with our different-than-us neighbors have allowed us to discuss big questions with our children. What does it look like to be unconditionally loving? How can we build and maintain relationships with people that believe and live differently than us? How can we stay true to our own beliefs and convictions while in friendships with those who differ from us?
But neighboring for our family has been far more than hard work and tough conversations. It has been great fun. We have found real joy together in being with and among our neighbors. It has provided our kids with daily opportunities to put others’ needs above their own. It has also helped them tremendously in their social development. Specifically, the inter-generational opportunities have sharpened our kids’ abilities to interact with adults and engage them in conversation. While we have neighbors that are different from us, we have also connected with many believers who live in our neighborhood and are members of other faith communities. Joining together as the body of Christ in our neighborhood has been a beautiful blessing.
As our oldest son is now moving out of our home and into his college years, I am beginning to realize on a new level just how important it is for us parents to be incredibly intentional with our children—what we want our kids to soak up and learn while they are living in our home. For us, living the unhurried, interruptible pace of Jesus has been a family priority, and neighboring has blessed our family in so many ways to this end.