When I was pregnant with each of my daughters, I was on bed rest for much of the pregnancies, terribly ill, and barely able to walk. It was so bad with my third pregnancy that after we moved into our new home, some of our neighbors thought my husband was a single father because they never saw me with him and the girls. I could hardly take care of our girls or myself. The first six or seven months of my pregnancies took a huge toll on me, my husband, and my family. Sickness and immobility kept me from moving, reading, thinking clearly, or doing much of anything. The most I could do was offer up quick and brief prayers throughout the day and gratefully receive the love and help of others. I didn’t “do” much in that season. I couldn’t.
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors the best we can no matter what season we find ourselves in. And yet, love looks different throughout the changing seasons of our lives. As I reflect on other periods of my life, it’s quite obvious that I no longer have the same level of flexibility in my schedule that I did in my twenties, nor the same stamina.
For most of our twenties, my husband and I were childless, in graduate school, and had fewer constraints. Now I have to consider my family and work responsibilities as I seek to love my closest neighbors. That doesn’t mean I can’t show love to them. But, the way in which I love them will look different now than it did back then. For instance, I can no longer stay up late talking into the night.
I have friends who have chronic illnesses and battle the effects of aging. They wish they could do more to love their neighbors. But that’s hard when they have more bad days than good. Just recently, I have talked to several seniors who believe their lives are meaningless because they can no longer contribute in the same ways they used to when they were younger and healthier. As we age, our bodies and minds can betray us. Our spirits are willing, but our bodies are weak (see matthew 26:41). Saying a little prayer on someone else’s behalf, encouraging others through a letter or phone call, or even baking cookies, are ways in which we can love our neighbors.
Two of my mentors were fond of repeating the phrase, “Do what you can, not what you can’t.” In this context, that means what while we never have the option of retiring from loving our neighbors, we are to love them according to the ability we have in the seasons we find ourselves. God is gracious; he knows what we can and cannot do.
Remember: It’s a Mutual Blessing
When it comes to showing hospitality and making room for our neighbors, author and professor Christine Pohl tells us that in Scripture “often hospitality is connected in some way to blessing and to God. . . . In the stories involving hospitality in the Old Testament, blessing is very frequently present. Strangers turn out to be angels, or guests bring good news, or they offer the promise of a longedfor child.” In addition, she notes that we “so often go into these interactions thinking that we’re the one who is providing the benefit, the help, the care our guest needs. In fact, it is the guest who brings the blessing. My life has been changed through these kinds of interactions. You do really have a sense that you’re standing on holy ground when you’re interacting with strangers. It can be quite a remarkable thing.”
Fellowshipping with our closest neighbors most often turns out to be a mutual blessing. We can expect God to show up in the faces of our neighbors.