We know Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, but what happens when the world is turned upside down, and we’re now required to be 6 feet away from any other human being? Loving your neighbor is hard on a good day, not to mention when social distancing!
So, how do we love our neighbors from 6 feet away? During a pandemic. While being quarantined.
This is a new world for all of us! I mean, even Jesus didn’t walk through a pandemic while living on this earth (at least that we’re aware of). Yet thankfully, Jesus does have a few good ideas for those of us who are still wanting to follow his example of loving others well—masks, no contact rules, awkward Zoom calls, limits on toilet paper (why the toilet paper, Lord?) and all.
But before we get into that, it’s important to remember that your neighbors—whether that’s your physical next-door neighbor, the cashier behind the plexiglass at the grocery store, or your kid’s 2nd grade teacher—need to be loved, maybe more than ever, right now. Just because “normal” life isn’t a reality for a lot of us right now, doesn’t mean we should take a break from reaching out and loving the people God puts in our lives.
Why? Because they need it. You need it. I need it. Maybe now more than ever.
People are sick.
People have lost their jobs or are scared they will.
People are isolated and alone.
People have been forced to cancel or postpone big life events.
People are dealing with anxiety and depression at record levels.
People have had to say goodbye to loved ones and friends from afar.
Life is hard, scary, and unknown for so many right now. We’re being called to love our neighbors like never before. Here’s how we can each love our neighbors (even from 6 feet away):
1. Be real, not Instagrammable
Let’s just say it: Sometimes, when we do things to love our neighbors, we end up trying too hard to make the moment picture-perfect.
I was recently talking to a friend whose dad is in the nursing home. She said she went over to visit him through the window like she’d seen others doing on social media, expecting this to be a really cute bonding experience for them.
My friend is one of the most hilariously honest people you’ll ever meet, and her thoughts on the visit? “Not cute! At all.”
She explained that she ended up standing outside the nursing home window in the freezing cold (this is South Dakota, after all, we have winter nine months out of the year), trying to get her dad to talk on the phone with her through the window. It was frustrating for both of them. Eventually, my friend said her dad just told her to leave and call him like normal from the comfort (and regulated temperature) of her house.
The point is, not all our attempts to love our neighbor while social distancing need to be Instagrammable. We don’t always have to show what we’re doing with a cute post about it online! Actually, Jesus encourages us to do the opposite: don’t boast about all the good things you’re doing. Do things in secret! (Matthew 6:4)
Not all our attempts to love our neighbor while social distancing need to be Instagrammable.
This isn’t me saying you shouldn’t go out and visit someone in the nursing home and talk to them through the window like my friend tried to do, but make sure you’re loving your neighbor, especially in this season, for the right reasons.
Also, know that sometimes things just won’t go as planned. We try and love our neighbor, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t work. Our plans fall apart or backfire. The other day I noticed a man standing on a street corner with a sign asking for food. I quickly went home, made a couple of sandwiches, got a drink, and drove back to the corner a few short minutes later only to find that the man was already gone. (Note: I ended up leaving the sandwiches and drink in front of my house, and they were quickly taken by a different man who ate them.) Don’t let a “failed attempt” keep you from trying again.
Again, be real, not Instagrammable.
2. Don’t touch people!
Seriously, no handshakes, hi-fives, or hugs! Stop touching! I’m kidding, sort of. (I’ve been praying for huggers during this time!)
Obviously, right now, we’re really not allowed to touch anyone besides our immediate family or the people we live with (and by now, we’re all probably at that point where we don’t even really want to touch them!). But loving our neighbors isn’t limited to physically touching people. In fact, there are some big moments in Jesus’ life where he was able to love people – heal people – without touching them.
One story that comes to mind was written by a guy named John. John tells us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem one day for one of the Jewish festivals and stopped at a pool there. Note: This wasn’t Jesus stopping for a casual swim and a trip down a waterslide. Instead, this pool was more like a big public bath house for people who were disabled in some way.
While he was there, Jesus met a man who hadn’t been able to walk for 38 years. Jesus talked to him a little bit, and after hearing how long he had been coming to the pool and lying there, he simply said this to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8).
And guess what? The man did! He got up, picked up his mat, and walked out of there. So cool!
But even more awesome for us to remember right now? Jesus loved this man without having to touch him at all! Like not even a pat on the shoulder, he simply healed him through a few words.
Our words matter. Like Jesus shows us in this story, our words are powerful.
Maybe we can’t make someone walk with our words, but we can use them to change someone’s day. Maybe their life.
Calling a friend.
Writing a note and sending it to your grandma.
Hosting a Zoom Bible study.
Putting away the phone and really connecting with your spouse.
Playing a game with the whole family.
Texting someone who you haven’t seen in a while to ask how they’re doing.
We don’t have to touch our neighbor to love them well. Words are powerful. Let’s use them. To let someone know they’re not alone. To help someone see the ways God is at work in their lives. To tell a person about the incredible gifts they have.
3. Start with one person a day.
Okay, so all of this is nice, but how do we practically accomplish loving our neighbor right now?
I mean, Adam, I’m working from home for the first time.
I’m trying to homeschool my kids and am overwhelmed just trying to do that!
I can’t seem to find the motivation to get out of my pajamas every day, much less love my neighbor.
Start with one person a day.
One person? Yep, just one. That’s not that many.
Send one text today.
Schedule one Zoom call.
Drop off a gift card to a friend.
Write one letter.
Bake cookies for your next-door neighbor.
Budget money you want to donate.
Sign up to volunteer.
Make it your goal to love one person today and watch that multiply.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the people that need our love right now and all the different ways we could love them, but what if you just started with one person today? That’s not so crazy, right?
When we start with one person a day, it makes it easier to love our neighbor from 6 feet away. We stop being so stressed and start seeing this as an opportunity to really love that one person well.
So, who is the one person you can love today?
Is it your mom?
The person down the hall of your apartment building?
That friend from high school?
The cashier at the grocery store?
Your favorite barista that you haven’t seen in a while?
Go do it! Love them! Love one neighbor today, and see how that changes their day (and yours!) for the better. What if this time is one of the greatest opportunities to love others in our lifetime?
These are just a few ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus, even when we have to stay 6 feet apart from each other.
Once all this is over, let’s remember not to take for granted those simple acts of love that are harder to come by right now—a handshake, a hug, a helping hand—and commit to always loving our neighbors well, no matter what the circumstance.