I used to live a hectic life, letting the days and weeks fly by. I was consumed with meeting people’s expectations and didn’t allow for self-care or boundaries. Surely, loving your neighbors was only a metaphor for how busy God expects me to be in my church. I gave energy to everyone who asked. Too often, I had nothing significant left for the myself or my family. I was oblivious to how this constant busyness was taxing our family and how utterly exhausted I was becoming.

And then my body blew the whistle. I absolutely couldn’t go without a rest and recovery period, doctor’s orders. I withdrew from most obligations and convalesced at home between treatments. At the time, we lived in a lovely neighborhood full of trees and trails. One weekend, I finally felt well enough to heed the call of the warm sun and gentle breeze. I noticed my older neighbors outside and stopped to chat. After being so isolated, I genuinely appreciated their company.  I was happy to just listen even as the wife began to discuss the difficulty in their marriage.

The Beauty of Being Exhausted

Now, I used to believe the answer to everything in life was found within the walls of my church. I would quickly gravitate to that corner and alienate people who were different than me. But, what I underwent that year broke something hard and detached inside me. I knew it was vital that I begin to listen and look around more.

Here were my neighbors: real, vulnerable people. A dutiful invite to my young, charismatic church wouldn’t be a resource for them as Catholics. Besides that, I was too tired to try to be anything less than honest and real. So I shared the story of how God walked Steve and I through a devastating time in our own marriage, by His goodness and grace. Amazingly, before I left their driveway, my neighbor turned to tell her husband all the things she deeply valued about him through their years together.

Let Your Neighbors Love You

Merely by slowing down to truly hear one another, God revived something in both of us. The gears of my soul shifted. Previously, I had spent myself being dutiful. But look what happened when I stopped to simply enjoy the people God placed in my path! I felt positively recharged! Was this what Jesus meant when he told the disciples about the woman at the well, “I’ve had food to eat that you don’t know about?” Loving my neighbors was surprisingly uncomplicated. This was the reason God created me, and it was much more joyful.

A couple weeks later, we briefly stopped by another neighbor’s home to drop off something on our way to church. Unexpectedly, they invited us in. The wheels in my head turned: we would definitely be late for church… but then, no one seemed to notice my absence or recent return anyways. And here was a sweet, genuine offer of hospitality when we seriously needed one. In that instant, I chose to unambiguously accept this gift, and to live wholeheartedly in the moment. It was so good for us! It remains a poignant memory.

Community is Our Calling

Over the next couple years in that city our family grew closer to each other and the friends in our backyard – and side yard, across the street, and down the road by the pool. I remain forever grateful to all those sweet neighbors who invited us in time and again (and still do when we return to visit). Saying “no” to more church obligations and “yes” to their hospitality helped us to heal and discover the beauty of life together in the slow lane.

I also tremendously appreciate all the wonderful neighbors-turned-friends who’ve helped us find home in our new city. They have made all the difference! My family no longer measures the quality of life or God’s approval by what we are accomplishing, but by how well we are connecting to those He placed around us.

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14

Written by Melissa Brendtro