Seems like everyone’s talking about neighbours these days: our church launched a local outreach initiative just as this themed issue was announced. And here in the land of babies and preschoolers, all I can think is, neighbours? I don’t even have time to stay on top of laundry let alone “reach out.” Being raised in the church means that the first thing you think when you hear the word neighbour is mission work. Emphasis on work. I’m sure most moms on the planet can relate to the feeling that adding one more responsibility to my to-do list will just put me over the edge. The edge of what, I’m not sure, but the right over part is certain. Maybe sanity.
As I reflected on this a little further, however, it occurred to me that a large portion of my time is divided up between two very demanding neighbours (in an unconventional sense of the word). My relationship with one is becoming quite toxic, co-dependent even. This neighbour lives close, too close, and we spend too much time together. It seems like we both take and take, giving nothing in return. This neighbour consumes my mental space and my attention, and I tend to use this neighbour for little more than amusement. And yet we can’t seem to part ways. This is a neighbour purely in the geographical sense: a neighbour in my pocket, on my nightstand, on the kitchen counter while I cook. When I power it down, or put it away, I miss it and find myself reaching for it constantly. Bizarre how this tiny piece of technology has come to dominate my thinking. I know that I need to impose some boundaries on phone use, especially at home, but it is a struggle to say the least.
The unseen work
On the other hand, I have these other two little neighbours who redefine demanding. Honestly, it might be easier to nap beside an air strip than try to contribute to society with these two around. They insist that I cook for, clean, dress, teach and monitor them 24/7 and think it’s enough to pay me back in hugs and sloppy kisses. As if the household work weren’t enough, they are absolutely uncivilized pagans who must be evangelized every day, all day. And the evangelism can rarely rely on what I say; they seem to have far more interest in how I behave . . . which is inconvenient, to say the least. These two parasitically suck up time until there isn’t a moment left for the aforementioned laundry, let alone for any kind of outreach.
Between my children and my cell phone (among other things), morning fades into night in a blur of busyness. And yet, I recognize that some balance is needed. Although it might just be a glance here and a skim there, string together the minutes I stare emptily at my cell phone in a day and I could have had coffee with the lonely empty-nester next door or dropped off some groceries at the food bank. As for my kids, they hardly need more of my time, but my attitude to that time might need some redemption. It is not just defined by endless and thankless rounds of housework, it is deeply missional in that it fulfills the directive to love in secret, hidden ways (Matt. 6:18). God sees this unseen work and has called me to begin my outreach with those right here at my fingertips. Sometimes that can feel like a cop-out in a culture that rewards nearly every effort above what goes on in the home. But that is not God’s economy.
So off I go to prepare another evangelical dinner and to fulfill the mission of Jesus by reminding my daughter, yet again, to go clean her room. I will try to believe that each action, however minute, is a gospel type of giving. And, while I’m at it, I might pop next door and invite the neighbour over for dessert.