I returned home from walking my dog to find a note taped to my mailbox along with a bag of dog—well, you know.
My neighbor across the street witnessed me allowing my dog to do his business in the natural, wooded area of their property and then burying said business under a pile of pine straw and decomposing leaves before heading on out for our walk.
This neighbor, to whom I have not spoken six words in the fourteen years we’ve lived here and who probably doesn’t even know my name, came out, found the buried business, bagged it up, and left it for me with a note. She called me out for my actions and said if it happened again she’d report me to the HOA. Not particularly friendly, I thought.
Justifications ran through my mind as I read the note:
It’s the woods.
Not their grass, not their landscaped area, the woods.
The same woods the deer poop in.
Far, far away from their house.
The woods, where tree limbs fall and stay until they decay.
I didn’t “cover” it up—I intentionally buried it.
It’s biodegradable and will be gone in a week.
Then it hit me.
I was that neighbor. You know who that neighbor is: the crazy one, the rude one, the loud one, the one who never maintains their property, the one who works on their car in the driveway at midnight, the one who lets their dog bark all night, the one who starts their yard work at sunrise on Saturday morning. We have all had that neighbor. No one wants to be that neighbor.
Yet here I was, confronted with the knowledge that I was who I didn’t want to be. She was right and I was wrong. It didn’t get any simpler than that.
I considered taking her rebuke, changing my behavior, and letting it go without saying another word. That would have been the safe thing to do. The thing neighbors who haven’t spoken six words to each other do. But Jesus doesn’t invite us to safe living. He commands us to courageous, obedient living, and sometimes that can be risky.
Jesus says to be the neighbor. The one who loves. The one who cares. The one who helps. The one who responds to notes taped to their mailbox with humility and repentance.
I knew I had to apologize, so I sat down to write a note back. The less risky option was to put it in her mailbox and be done with it. But a follower of Jesus is required to live courageously. Jesus expects us to be the neighbor who promotes unity and peace. The neighbor who loves enough to admit wrongdoing and seeks to make it right. The neighbor who will swallow a little pride.
So, somewhat warily yet strangely confident, I knocked on her door, and just as warily she answered. She knew why I was there—because of her note and “gift.” I simply offered, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I was disrespectful to you and your property. Thank you for holding me accountable.”
Surprise registered on her face. She expected confrontation. Justification. Anger, even. She didn’t expect a humble apology and didn’t quite know what to do with it. I left there thinking that was probably the end of it. I had done the right thing.
I’d like to say I’m always like this. I am not. In this instance, I succeeded in living as one who seeks daily to be conformed into Christ’s likeness. All too often I do not.
Our world doesn’t expect Christlike behavior. Why not? Why is it surprising when people live out what they say they believe? Is it because we, as Christians, settle for the easy, less risky response? Opting for the easy way out doesn’t confront someone with the reality of Christ. As neighbors, isn’t the reality of Christ supposed to be evident in our lives?
The next day, as I walked my dog down the street toward home (this time carrying a full baggy), she walked down her driveway to meet me and said, “I could have handled that better.” We shared a moment of friendship—speaking more words to each other over dogs and their business than we had ever spoken. The risky approach opened opportunity.
Maybe the Holy Spirit is telling me it’s time to bridge this gap. Fourteen years and six words? Really? Not particularly friendly. I have work to do if I’m going to be the neighbor.
We all do.
Denise Roberts is a wife, mom, and joyful soon to be mother-in-law. She loves sharing a good cup of coffee on her back deck with friends and morning snuggles from her 100-lb. chocolate lab, Hudson. She writes with a passion to share how to live holy, where faith and life intersect. Connect with her at www.deniseroberts.org.
Photograph © Gleren Meneghin, used with permission