At Mill City, we talk about loving our community in the name of Jesus. And for all of us, our community includes our neighbors. We need to know our neighbors if we're going to love them, and this means talking to strangers, which is intimidating.
I've heard of these mythical creatures that just naturally seek out conversation with strangers - I'm told society calls them "extroverts." But that's not me. I'm not the person that chases down my neighbor in their driveway, but ultimately I do want to know these people. I do want to live in community.
So how do I engage my neighbors when I'm uncomfortable approaching strangers?
I came across that word - linger - in an article about being a good neighbor, and in this setting, it isn't used to describe that odd couple that won't leave your house after dinner. Here, "linger" describes how to behave in your neighborhood. You don't rush from your garage into your house. You don't race outside to do yard work shielded with headphones, and then escape inside as soon as possible. You linger.
I might not be able to impersonate an extrovert, but know what I can do? Linger.
This has become my guiding principle for hanging out in my neighborhood. After a jog, I take off my headphones and cool down on the sidewalk, lingering. When I get home from work, I linger for a few extra seconds in the alley, inspecting my crumbling garage. On nice evenings, my wife and I eat dinner outside and hang out for a while afterwards. We walk around the lawn leisurely, contemplating what to do about the rabbits eating our garden.
As we've lingered, we've run into our neighbors. Over and over and over. We had a dozen over-the-fence conversations with next door neighbors - we lent them our shovel, and they lent us their lawn mower. We ran into our neighbors across the street and chatted about landscaping.
The toddler across the alley wandered over to our yard while we ate dinner, and we connected with his parents for the first time in three years. And during that brutal week-long stretch when snow had melted but ice hadn't, I heard a different neighbor spinning his tires on ice. After helping him chop it out from under his tires, I found out they were expecting their second child any day, and we were able to bring them a meal shortly after.
We didn't have to formulate a plan on how we would interact with our neighbors - we just lingered.
We believe that life is richer when we live in community. When we're surrounded by people that we know, and by people that know us. It feels nice when someone sees you, says your name, and smiles. It feels nice to share a joke about your weedy yards with the neighbor. God made us like this! I suspect God instructs us to be good neighbors in part because we're created to enjoy this community.
While we truly believe these small interactions are meaningful, we also hope and trust that there will be opportunities to share the love of Jesus in deeper ways. And in a world where it can be uncomfortable approaching people we don't know, the concept of lingering has helped us meet our neighbors.