My husband and I were raised in Papua New Guinea. As global worker kids growing up on the field, we didn’t have a care in the world. Life was full of adventure and we loved it. Returning to the field as adults with two sons provided a different perspective. We were more aware of the potential concerns of living in a remote area as well as the difficulties that could arise from living in a close mission community. There was one family that we found to be especially challenging. Our relationship with them became the biggest struggle of our first year.
Our neighbors were a great family. They loved the Lord and had come to serve him just as we had. Their three kids were about the same age as our boys. It would seem that we would have a lot in common but as we got to know them better and our kids spent more time together it became evident that our differences were much greater than our similarities. And those differences contributed to extreme tension as our kids interacted.
Our boys loved to spend time at our neighbor’s home. They enjoyed *Mark and *Troy but the attraction wasn’t just because of them, but because of their “stuff”. While the younger boys usually got along quite well, I was concerned with *Brandon, our older son, and his friendship with Mark. Brandon was in awe of Mark, his maturity and his stuff. As a mom, I felt that Mark sometimes treated Brandon in hurtful and manipulative ways. My natural tendency was to limit their interaction to protect Brandon from being hurt but this just led to tension between Brandon and me.
As specific conflicts arose, we went to our neighbors to talk them through. Sometimes it was necessary to ask them to honor certain rules or limits that we were trying to maintain for our boys. As we talked, our perception was that there was no compromise.
Their way was the right way. It felt that any suggestions we made were ridiculed. At times the tension between our two families was unbearable. I would lay in bed weeping feeling defeated, protective, angry, frustrated. Every day was a battle. I felt like I had sold my kids to the lady next door. Like I was the stepmom and what I said didn’t have any weight with my neighbor or with my own boys.
Of course we prayed. My husband and I struggled in prayer trying our best to let go, not be so protective, not always pointing the finger at them. But they remained the bad guys and we were hurting. All the good things that we wanted to be and all the things God asks us to be just weren’t working! The tension between our two families was all consuming, affecting our marriage, our family, our lives. Living out the “love your neighbor” verse was easier in the context of our host culture that it was with our own global worker neighbors.
As time went by God used several circumstances to work on our hearts.
The first was when my husband suggested that we take turns walking the pathway between our homes each night, praying for peace, resolution and kindness between our families. We realized that we had to take responsibility and apologize for what we had done wrong. This was hard. It made me feel very vulnerable and nervous about exposing myself to additional abuse. I didn’t want to appear weak or immature. My ego resisted. I did go and apologize for my wrong doings; it wasn’t received the way I had hoped, but I knew I had to do the right thing, in order to honor God.
God also allowed me to focus more on our similarities than our differences. This was not a godless family allowing chaos, pornography, drugs or alcohol to rule their home. This was a family that was gifted, caring and had amazing ways of reaching the people on the field. Above all they loved the same God I loved! Why was this so difficult?
As the tension between our two families escalated, so had the tension in our relationship with our oldest son, Brandon. I was continuing to try and shield him from Mark’s manipulative tendencies. One day, I saw in his eyes and body language an anger towards my husband and I stemming from our over-protectiveness. At that moment, God showed me that it was wrong to try to shield him from potential hurt. I realized that it would be better to release my son and let him experience some pain and learn from the experience on his own. Amazingly, as I let go, God allowed me to see Mark’s positive character qualities. He had helped Brandon develop needed social skills, encouraged him to get out of his comfort zone and interact with the kids in town despite the language barriers. Yes, Brandon has since been hurt by Mark’s actions but we were able to talk through the hurts and help him understand how to handle it when friends disappoint.
Ultimately, God allowed a situation to happen that brought about even greater healing in our relationship with our neighbors. Mark as a pedestrian was involved in a traffic accident that knocked him unconscious in the street in front of our house. I was one of the first to arrive on the scene. As I held Mark in my arms and comforted him, he was a no longer the enemy. I looked into his eyes and felt the ability to love, to forgive, and to care for him. When his mom arrived, I was aware of her physically shaking, her rising anxiety level. God allowed me to respond, laying hands on Mark and his mom and praying for them openly. At that moment, I felt that we were all at the mercy of the lord, sitting at his feet. All our differences, frustrations and anger dissolved. I felt that God had brought me there, in a moment of crisis, to realize how far we had come to make amends.
Later, when I stopped by our neighbors to see how Mark was doing, I felt the old guarded self sneaking back in. I didn’t want to share the spiritual lesson I’d learned out on the street because of my old fear of being vulnerable in front of my neighbor. But before I knew it, the words came out of my mouth and tears came to my eyes as I shared what God had done to my heart. Mark’s mom shared that when she ran out to see what had happened and saw me holding her son, she was relieved to see him safe with me watching over him.
God can do what no man can. Through His unconditional love and constant care, He molds us into the people He wants us to be.
We are not best friends with our neighbors. However, we do have an atmosphere of peace, respect and an understanding of our differences. We have learned that in difficult circumstances, God’s mercy alone can make it possible to love thy neighbor.
*Names have been changed.