“I expect you to keep everything in your yard! Don’t get into my property and keep out! I’m giving you one last warning. The next time and I will call the police.”
The sharp words were spoken at the property boundary line between two homes. The anger had been building for quite some time and it was finally time to speak up over the infractions that had been tolerated. Bettie stood there stunned at the tirade she received from her neighbor. What had prompted the anger?
The two neighbors had lived next to one another for almost ten years. Both of them pretty much attended to their own affairs. However, it soon became apparent that there were other issues that had bothered Carol. She felt it was time to disclose exactly how much she had tolerated.
Her first complaint dealt with the time that Bettie’s grandson had been playing in her carport while she was on vacation. To her it seemed to be an absolutely logical conclusion but if Carol was on vacation how could she ever see the young child riding his bicycle in her carport? It certainly had never been mentioned before. The incident had happened when Chad was five years old. Chad was now ten years old so for five years the frustration had been building within Carol’s mind.
The next complaint was directed at a few items that that littered her back yard. During heavy thunderstorms branches often fell off trees and leaves and twigs often ended in yards. Carol seemed to handle that fairly well but when a pile of leaves seemed to be directly blown into her yard with a leaf blower, her anger flared.
Paper. Little scraps of paper in her yard. How had they gotten there? Carol was upset and it was extra work picking up the small pieces. She was sure that the act was intentional. She never considered that it's not uncommon for some papers to catch a small breeze when the trash truck is moving down the street. Papers could sometimes blow away from open windows of a car. The pieces of paper were an aggravation. It just happened that Carol blamed Bettie for everything. She felt that it must have be done out of hatred or animosity.
Bettie took all this in stride and knew that Carol was exaggerating. Anyone can have a bad day when things seem a lot worse than they really are. It certainly could not get much worse. That theory changed on a Tuesday afternoon. Bettie walked out on the front porch to get her mail and when she looked down there was a small piece of Styrofoam on the porch with a rock on top. There was a note complaining about the latest problem. The neighbor knew for certain that Bettie had deliberately placed the item in her yard just to cause more bitterness. She had reached her level of tolerance and the note on the Styrofoam gave one last threat about involving the police. If the case was ever taken before a court of law, there was no sound evidence to prove that Bettie had acted maliciously.
Bettie never lashed out and tried to point out the pettiness of everything. There was no rationale to anything that Carol was saying. No matter what she seemed to do or not do, there was no way to convince her neighbor that she had done nothing at all. Carol’s mind had made the incidents much larger than they really were. Trying to take things in stride and letting the complaints not bother her was her best recourse.
There was only one time that I experienced a neighbor so obnoxious. When we were first married we lived in a trailer court. Our neighbor had been involved in an accident and I caught him one day with a sledge hammer pounding away at his own car, the car that was waiting for an estimate for repair. The cost for repairs would be paid by the other party’s insurance company and in his anger our neighbor wanted to be sure the damage was extensive. It wasn’t long after that I got my first complaint. I had mowed my lawn and grass blades were left on the driveway. Okay, I can sweep up after I finished mowing. But why the anger over a few blades of grass on the concrete driveway? Most people ignore the debris from mowing the yard simply because they are glad to be finished with the yard work.
I'm sure that at some time I have probably done something to annoy my neighbor but if I have no one has complained directly to me. Bettie chose to ignore the complaints of her neighbor because the whole thing was simply petty. In a similar case of a friend of mine, she got a tongue lashing for allowing the leaves of her tree to fall into her neighbor's yard. Such trivial matters and such unexpected reactions. Life can be stressful at times and it would be so easy to blame someone else for problems. It doesn't accomplish anything because the problems are still there. Placing the blame on someone else is a way to avoid the real underlying issue that is bothering the person complaining.
God’s Word has many passages that deal with the way that I should treat my neighbor. Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:37, Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8 are all New Testament references that instruct me to love my neighbor as myself. Colossians 3:12 instructs me to be longsuffering and to forgive others when someone has a complaint. Proverbs 24:28-29 challenges me to not be a witness against my neighbor without cause…”Do not say, I will do to him just as he has done to me”. God expects me to be tolerant of others who may be irrational and show His love to them. It's not always easy but trying to keep peace can be a real witness to others.
Being a Christian is not always easy and dealing with difficult people can be a real test of just how much God is living in me. It is easy to lash out in anger or to think of ways to get even, but neither of these ways is acceptable for a Christian. Many of these difficult people may not be Christians or may be dealing with situations such as a medical, family, or job-related problem. A kind word will sometimes make the difference. If not, I try to tolerate the person and still be kind. I know of one person who is so grumpy that she has alienated her neighbors as well as her own family members. She has the “I am always right” attitude and people soon give up trying to be friendly to her. She is lonely but she has not been able to show any love to others. In cases like these prayer is the best way to help open God’s light into hurting lives.
Doing right because it is right is one of the hardest things anyone has to do. It goes against our human nature but it is a real test of my Christian faith and my ability to love others. It’s what Christ would do. I'm not perfect but if I try to follow His example I just may have reached out to someone who really needed the Lord. My task is to be the good neighbor even to those who may be grumpy or difficult. Are you up to the same challenge?