Jesus “famously” said “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). I put “famously” in quotes because that phrase can be found on T-shirts, billboards, and coffee cups. It’s been turned into an eternal “Golden Rule” and, at times, has been used to diminish the Christian faith into nothing more than being nice (and one could argue that we’re not doing very well even with that diminished version). But occasionally we get reminded why this whole “loving your neighbor thing” matters and what can happen when we wittingly or unwittingly offer grace and love to those in our lives who need it.
I had just such an occasion last week. Here’s what happened…
I was “tagged” in a group message on Facebook by an old friend from my high school days. While we shared experiences years ago, I moved away, and perhaps the only reason we’re in touch with each other is Facebook. And yet, I’m happy to be connected at this point.
This friend wrote a long personal note about bullying, with links to some blog posts online. And he bared his soul about how miserable life was for him in Middle School and the first couple of years of high school with incessant bullying. It led to a “trust no one shell” and a “friendly overtures are a trap” presumption. He considered suicide, skipped classes and tried to hide. It was a hellish four years for him.
Then, during his Junior year, along came some Freshmen who didn’t know his bully-worthy social status. He found a place in theater and music and there was now a group of persons not only willing to work with him and be with him but to learn from him. Moreover he found a teacher who provided a safe place for someone who had been perceived as a misfit. There was a place where he now fit in and persons who were actual, honest-to-God, friends.
(As an aside, I’ve often found that theater music can be a place for social misfits to finally fit in. Perhaps there’s something to the whole “pretending to be someone else” and “finding your voice.)
What I found intriguing is that he talked about the baggage of the bullying and what it meant as an adult; how it made it hard to function at jobs sometimes, and how it still hurts. He wrote: “My experience is, the pain from this [stuff] has a half-life maybe, but it never goes away.”
But his Facebook message was not to complain. Life, really, is pretty good for him at this point: he has a wife, family, meaningful work, and good friends. He wrote the message as a way to help persons and as a way to thank those who cared for him so many years ago. He wanted them to know that, 30 years later, the love they showed mattered.
I was one of those listed as making a difference back when I was just a freshman in high school.
I’m sure I had no grand theological reason for being nice to this friend. I was not trying to “get a more stars in my crown” or doing a Boy Scout “good deed.” This was not planned out. It was just being nice. I was merely being a friend. To use some Jesus-words…I was merely loving someone — someone we may call a “neighbor” — as I would want to be loved — loving them as myself.
And yet, for a week or so now, I’ve been moved by this account and the role that I, unbeknownst to me at the time, played it it. It shows me just how important it is to be nice, to be neighborly, to love.
Regardless of the reasons, loving your neighbor matters. It doesn’t just matter for today. It matters for 30 years from now—and beyond.
Thanks to my friend for making this so clear to me.