By Avery Walker
Though we do not like to think about it too much, our world is an increasingly hostile place to live. From pandemics to politics, social media to social distancing, violence and hatred seem to lurk in every corner. Now more than ever, we need to learn how to love our neighbors. In doing so, we can lend some light to a world that struggles with darkness.
Loving your neighbor is simple, but it is not always easy. One of the most basic ways to show love to those around you is to look for ways to meet essential needs. Jesus, an undeniably good example of how to show love to others, said that even the simple act of giving someone a glass of water is powerful. Do you have a friend who has been out of work due to sickness? If you have extra, consider helping someone who cannot pay their electric or heating bill this month. Bringing a meal to a shut-in or an overwhelmed single parent is an easy way to change someone’s day for the better.
Basic needs are not always physical, however. In fact, more often they are intangible and require more effort to notice. In the past several years, an unprecedented number of people have lost their lives as a result of isolation and intense loneliness. If you know someone is alone, just a phone call can make a world of difference. If you have more time, consider stopping by for a visit, or setting up a coffee date, or a walk in the fresh air on a nice day. Many people going through hard times will deny monetary help, but almost no one will turn down a good talk over a steaming mug of something tasty. If someone is isolated due to illness, get creative with video chats or online games. My son and I have found ways to play board games with friends and family over video chat, which turned into hours of fun and laughter. A small gesture or some quality time can make all the difference in the life of someone who is struggling, or just having a bad day.
You do not need time or money to show love. In a culture where everyone wears their opinions like a badge of honor, respect is hard to come by. Over the last several years I have watched close friends, families, and colleagues create seemingly irreparable damage to their relationships with each other over a difference of opinion. Unfortunately, division is easy. It is second nature for us to value our own opinions more than we value relationships. Actively putting others first in our minds is one of the hardest ways to show love, yet it is the most essential. You do not have to compromise your beliefs to show love and respect to someone who differs from you. Whether it be politics, pandemic policies, or whether pineapple goes on pizza, resist the urge to make others feel less about themselves for having a difference of opinion. Instead, try to find something you have in common. I know from personal experience that this is easier said than done, but it is worth every bit of effort. A kind word often turns away anger, and showing respect to others can inspire them to show respect in return. Just like a spark of rudeness can light a fire of anger and indignation, a drop of kindness can start a wave of positive change.
In the same vein, loving your neighbor means lifting others up rather than putting them down. Social media in particular makes it hard to be happy for others. It is easy to think someone has a perfect life when watching the highlight reel they post for the world to see. Most of us do not post about bad hair days or being late for work, and why would we? It is not something we want others to know about. But the down side of a positive newsfeed is the competitive nature that rises up inside most of us when we see someone else succeed. Life can easily feel like a competition, and if we always compare ourselves to others we will quickly become self-centered and discouraged. Learning to be truly happy for others is an exercise in love that will not only benefit the ones you are cheering on, but yourself as well. Rather than being bitter over your coworker’s promotion, help them celebrate. Ask your friend to tell you about all the fun things that happened on his vacation. Rejoice with your friend over a new relationship; knowing she has someone who will listen can be invaluable to her during this time of excitement and also insecurity. Learning to be truly happy for others chases away seeds of bitterness and resentment, and lets you experience not only your own joy, but the joy of others as well. It is a win-win situation for everyone if we can get over our own feelings of inadequacy or judgment.