Loving the belligerent neighbor
One morning I was thinking about the first line in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, to-day is big with blessings” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. vii). The thought came to me that, to the degree to which I lean on God, to that same degree my experience is filled with happiness and holiness.
As a real estate developer, I purchase, renovate, and resell houses. My first stop that day was at a house I had recently purchased, and work inside the house was underway. As I got out of my car, a neighbor came over to greet me. Most neighbors appreciate how we take the ugliest house in the neighborhood and turn it into one of the most beautiful ones, so I was expecting a pleasant encounter. Unfortunately, this man’s attitude was anything but pleasant. He immediately went into a tirade about how the driveway of this house was encroaching on his property.
I tried to reason with him. He had a large property with plenty of space between our houses. Was the four-inch encroachment really a problem for him? And if so, why hadn’t he brought this up with the previous owner during the ten years he was aware of the problem, or even alerted the real estate agent who had the property on the market for over a year? Regardless, he began to attack me and my business. When I explained I was simply making an honest living, he said even crueler things. As he got angrier and more unreasonable, I felt smaller and weaker. It was one of those rare moments when I wished I were back at my own house, simply caring for my home and family.
As I turned to go toward the house I was renovating, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. In my line of work, events often don’t go as planned, but that day the attack on my business and character felt ominous. As I met one of my contractors and started to spill my story, the contractor grew more and more upset until he was ready to charge next door and set the neighbor straight. As much as I appreciated his show of support, I assured him that wasn’t the answer. I explained that I wanted to practice the second of what Jesus called the two great commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39). This contractor knows and appreciates how prayer guides my decisions and actions. As I calmed him down, I was able to calm myself as well.
I was determined to love our neighbors, all of them.
Later in the car, returning to my office, I thought more about my inspiration that morning—that the degree to which I lean on God is the same degree my day is big with blessings. It gave me a joyous expectancy, and I started to think, “I can’t wait to see this situation work out, one step at a time.” Eddy writes in Science and Health, “When the destination is desirable, expectation speeds our progress” (p. 426). I saw that this challenge was just an opportunity in disguise, and that the battle was God’s to fight, not mine. My job was to lean on God’s wisdom and listen for His direction and guidance. I recalled a favorite saying of mine: “If God is your copilot, switch seats.”
I also appreciated how Jesus was able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, New International Version). I could certainly do the same. I could choose not to take offense, but rather to think of this neighbor as the loved child of God.
My day and week progressed well as I continued to manage this and two other renovation projects. I was determined to love our neighbors—all of them. Several times, this particular neighbor came out and asked what I was doing to resolve the driveway encroachment. He also began sending me curt e-mails. The temptation was to think that my prayers weren’t effective, because the neighbor wasn’t changing. But my thought about my neighbor was changing, and this is where the healing was taking place. I no longer reacted to him with distress or anger. Every time I was at the house, I went out of my way to greet and chat with the neighbors. And I continued to look forward to seeing how the situation would be resolved.
A short time later, I felt led to contact the owner of a particular construction company. When I told him about my situation, he said he would be able to fix the problem with the driveway. He was so grateful for all the work and referrals we had given his company that he said he would like to do the work for us if we would simply reimburse him for his expenses. It was the perfect solution. He did such a good job that we’ve used his company for several projects since, so he was blessed as well. The neighbor responded to the removal of the encroachment with an appreciative e-mail. And the house sold at full asking price, with multiple offers, at a time when many were saying the market was not strong.
I was learning that, to the same degree I was leaning on God, my peace was assured and my days were big with blessings. And I like to think my neighbors’ days were blessed as well.