This beautiful mountain community of Evergreen, Conifer, Bailey and beyond is unto itself. What I mean by that is the fact that many people move here to seek solitude and get away from crowds and herd mentality.
So how do we reach our neighbors who often possess fierce independence already during this pandemic where we are told to isolate even further?
One neighbor verbalized a common mountain value perfectly when he told my wife recently “I’ve been social distancing for years!” And therein lies the rub.
Followers of Christ like me who enjoy solitude and the treasure of introspection know that social distancing is vitally important now but doing it “for years” without a valid health reason is not living out our faith. The God of the Bible values relationships, community, and service.
It was challenging enough before, but now how do we love and reach neighbors who don’t want to be reached? I thought about these questions often during the first week or so of the pandemic and social distancing requirements. I couldn’t come to an answer on my own so I turned to what I should have started with. Prayer. “God, would you give me ways to love and reach neighbors during this time of fear and social isolation?”
He answered quickly. A neighbor I’ve known for over a decade asked me to help our newest neighbor who moved in a few months ago cut down some trees on his property so he wouldn’t have to hire a tree company to do it. Being the hands and feet of Jesus always feels better with a growling chainsaw in your hands!
And while the few hours that saw rumbling afternoon along with the few days of soreness that followed felt good, I knew there was something more. But what? An answer came in another outdoor setting when I least expected it.
Just about every day I love to go on a hike with my dog, Gracie. If I have a couple hours to spare, I bushwhack with her in the national forest behind my house. However, if I have an hour or less, which is usually the case, I walk the neighborhood I live in.
One day as I was walking the neighborhood, I rounded a bend in the road and ran into a couple walking their dog that I had never met before. “Hey there, are you guys feeling healthy during all of this?” I asked with a smile. “Yes, we are” came the response. “That’s great to hear!” I said followed by “From the people I’ve talked to in this neighborhood and at my church, everyone is healthy so far, thankfully.” “Oh, that is good to know” they responded. I then ended with “I have heard of some cases in the area, so I hope you all stay healthy and this nasty virus goes away soon. See ya around!”
Walking away, I thought “That’s it!” This is a way I can connect with neighbors I meet during this pandemic. Keeping the proper distance while building relationships. I hadn’t planned or rehearsed the conversation. It just happened. God answered my prayer with an organic conversation and some discernment afterwards to realize I could use the conversation in the future! I believe it was an extension of the Holy Spirit power to give us words that we read about in Luke 12:11-12, Mark 13:11, and Matthew 10:19.
In my first question I showed them that I care about them personally. In the second part of the conversation or “community report,” I conveyed that I care about the entire neighborhood and greater community. Then, at the end of my conversation, I let them know that I care about the future. The future both for them personally and the entire world.
I have since had similar conversations with about twenty-five people over the last few weeks that I’ve met while walking in my neighborhood. The whole conversation above can happen in less than a minute, although I’ve talked longer with those showing interest.
Some of those I talked to on the walks have been “the regulars” but most have been new people I’ve seen for the first time. It’s interesting how many people are getting outdoors now that they are mandated to stay home. As I walk excited for opportunities, I almost picture my dog rolling her eyes thinking “oh boy, here come some new people, here he goes again!”
My new prayer after these conversations is, “Father, I pray for these conversations with neighbors to develop more, that relationships between me and them would blossom, and that you would draw them into a beautifully fragrant relationship with you through your Son. In his name, Amen.”
How will you show the love of Christ to your neighbors during this pandemic? You can do it safely with service, words, or a combination of both. I believe that showing your neighbors that you care about them personally, care about the entire community, and you care about the future is what we are called to do. Everybody is so worried about themselves right now that you could be the one neighbor showing concern for someone else. There are probably hundreds of ways to do that in the coming days. If you’re stumped like I was, ask God. I’m pretty sure he’s got an opportunity for you right around the bend.