Back in November my husband, six-year-old son, one-year-old daughter, and I set aside an afternoon to rake fall leaves off our browning lawn. We were a bit late to the task, our neighbor’s yard already meticulously cleared of any renegade leaf (aside from stragglers who’d blown over from those lazy neighbors—aka, us!). We bundled up against the crisp Chicago air and took turns scooping big piles of leaves and leaping into them before stuffing them into big paper bags. As we finished, my husband took care to go over to our neighbor’s lawn, collecting up the leaves that had gathered there. My son took notice of this and curiously asked him, “Dad, why are you taking care of someone else’s yard when our job is already done?”

How We Can Love Our Neighbors Well

This presented a great opportunity to talk with him about our responsibility to our neighbors. We get to live life side-by-side with people—people God delights in and knows by name. People He desires relationship with, chases after, and loves. And we get to be reflections of that love. We reflect God’s love to others by how we behave with them. Do we draw a hard line down the fence, declaring a separation of what’s mine and what’s yours? Or do we allow for some overlap, for the messiness of one another to find some grace? Sure we could have let the leaves that blew into our neighbor’s yard stay there, no longer our problem. But what about our responsibility to love our neighbors well?

Our perspective of what defines our neighbor is constantly expanded as well. This concept of reflecting God’s love through our actions can look like holding open the door for the man with an armful of packages at the post office. It can look like a warm smile shared with the elderly woman sitting alone at the cafe or a compassionate nod to the young mom trying desperately to soothe her wailing infant in the grocery aisle. All of this is kindness. All of this is putting God’s love on display. In any one of these instances we have the choice to acknowledge our neighbor—this person God has placed in our path—or to pretend we don’t notice that person’s need.

We are constantly trying to cultivate a spirit of curiosity in our home. We ask lots of questions and try hard to model a humble desire to learn for our children. Rather than assuming the people we encounter throughout our days are all fine and don’t need our help, what if we got curious about their stories? What if we took the time to see past the first impression and really look at them with God’s eyes? I bet we would discover a lot of loneliness, a lot of courage, and countless stories of brave brothers and sisters who are all in need of a little extra compassion. Our responsibility to others is a direct result of our being saved by grace. We love because He first loved us. From catching stray leaves to taking the time to say hello, small acts of kindness can catapult us from a life of separation and fences toward one of shared spaces and family.