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When a neighbor isn’t so neighborly

From the November 7, 2011 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

Here’s a quick tip. If you can remember only two things from the Bible, remember these: love God, and love your neighbor (see Matt. 22:35–40). Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, for me, at times it’s been easier said than done. It can be tempting to let my follow-through depend on the circumstances.

For example, one morning while living and working abroad, I left the back door to my private garden open as usual to take in some fresh air while I read that week’s Christian Science Bible Lesson. After a while, I heard someone knocking on the shared wall between my house and that of my neighbor, whom I knew from occasional, friendly chats. He’d never done this before, but I instinctively knocked back to let him know I was home if he needed anything. To my great surprise, a few minutes later he came over the wall between our gardens and walked through my back door.

He came up to me, embraced me, and started talking to me and touching me in ways I didn’t appreciate. I quickly realized that he was drunk, probably still awake after partying all night. I asked him to stop, but he ignored my protests. Immediately, I reached out to God in prayer, not sure how the situation would be resolved, but certain that God had a solution. 

I knew from many years of experience in Christian Science that no situation or person, no matter how desperate, is outside of God’s care. My neighbor and I were not alone. God’s love and power were present and greater than any other influence, including alcoholic or sexual impulses. As Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health, “The power of Christian Science and divine Love is omnipotent. It is indeed adequate to unclasp the hold and to destroy disease, sin, and death” (p. 412). In this case, sinful behavior.

At that precise moment, the front doorbell rang, even though it was only 7 a.m. on a Saturday. Stunned and confused, my neighbor paused, and I was able to move swiftly toward the front door. I told him to leave, because I had to open the door. He hesitated, then left the way he had come. 

Although I was still flustered by what had just happened, I was able to able to chat quite normally with the person at the door, another early riser who had come over to see me. During the half hour that we talked together, I said nothing to him about what had just happened. When he left, I resumed my prayerful study, ignoring a few more taps on the wall from my neighbor. But I began to pray about what I would do when I next saw my neighbor.

I wanted him to know a God who is Love, sending us all the love we could possibly need.

I soon realized the only way was to love and forgive him. That was a tall order, but I knew that because God was the source of my ability to love, there had to be a way. And that way would go beyond the surface appearances that seemed so unforgivable. I had to think spiritually about myself and my neighbor. I had to hold firmly in thought our completely good and pure, God-given nature. In God’s eyes, we were both still innocent, incorruptible, and at peace. 

At that point I began to feel compassion for my neighbor. I wanted him to know a God who is Love, sending us all the love we could possibly need. So, none of us can be lacking love, or be tempted to look for love in the wrong places, or try to force love to happen. God’s love is spiritual, abundant, and satisfying. 

I persisted in this prayer—daily—and eventually, when my neighbor and I happened to meet in the neighborhood or in front of our homes, the discomfort between us had dissolved. We actually developed a respectful relationship, and he even indirectly apologized for his forwardness that morning.

What I learned was that when it feels difficult to follow through on loving our neighbors, we need to check how we’re thinking about them and about God. Are we thinking of them as separate from God and out of His control? Are we remembering that God is never absent, distant, unaware, or unconcerned? God is always present and close, knows us thoroughly, and tenderly cares for us—and our neighbors—in the best and wisest of ways. As such, anything unlovable or unforgivable is not given to us by God and can be removed and healed by Him.

That experience abroad not only deepened my love for God, it steadied my efforts to love even the most initially unlovable people I can think of in the world, including criminals, terrorists, and others. It gives me confidence that we will all eventually arrive at “. . . that happy day, when man [including men and women] shall recognize the Science of Christ and love his neighbor as himself,—when he shall realize God’s omnipotence and the healing power of the divine Love in what it has done and is doing for mankind” (Science and Health, p. 55).  

Susie Jostyn is a Christian Science practitioner in Brookline, Massachusetts. She also serves on the Christian Science Board of Lectureship.

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