Love thy neighbor. Oh boy! I’d guess it’s a direct challenge by the task’s author. The directive is akin to a parent’s demand, “Eat thy chicken gizzards.” (My apologies to those who love eating chicken gizzards.)
But as there are foods one cannot stomach, so there are “thy neighbors” that one cannot stomach. Yet, we’re supposed to love them.
Twelve years of parochial school education lingers in my concern about the divine directives. Today, one will not find gizzards or any kind of organ meat in my pantry. I don’t like it–never did–never will. But this loving my neighbor is a whole other dish.
Loving some people is almost like forcing liver down my throat. Some people are not lovable. They dwell within the adjectives of annoying, irritating and irksome. When circumstances force me among these folks, or that person, I mimic my childhood behavior when a disgusting organ meat was served for dinner: Smother it in ketchup, place it in my mouth, daintily take my napkin and spit the mess into it, never allowing it to get too close to my taste buds. Safe. Adhering to the parental directive and, conversely, respecting my distaste.
But sometimes I couldn’t slip this move past the demanding parental eye, and then I gagged. Who knew that would become a lifelong allegory in dealing with unlovable neighbors.
So, Tanya (an assumed name), spewed a direct verbal assault against me and an effort of love that I took on. It was mean-spirited. It possessed misinformation. It projected superiority. It inflected doubt among others. The arrogance, the mean spirit, and doubt-inflicting business I could spit out like the liver. But I have issues with misinformation—especially deliberate misinformation. (This is why I turn off political ads the moment they jump onto my TV screen.)
Malignant use of misinformation ramps up the Irish genes that dance about my body, which in turn fuels one angry she-devil. I think they call it an Irish temper. “Your mouth is going to get you in trouble,” my father often warned me. And it did. And it does. As my hair grows more white than chestnut, I’ve learned to hold my tongue a bit more than in the past. Sort of.
Opportunity opened a door for me to confront Tanya about her behavior. My words played direct and to the point: “Stop the misinformation.” This unlovable neighbor showed no respect for my words. The she-devil in me crept past my knees, over my hips, into my lungs and freed her enraged self into hurling all the proverbial rotten liver I ever tasted right into Tanya’s ears. Tanya stood shocked. I departed with, “Please, Tanya, stop the bad talking. It’s not good for anyone.”
I don’t like this at all. Leave me alone, let me do my work, you do yours, and we’ll find it easy to love thy neighbor. But in the real world is doesn’t work this way. Just about the time I think I’m getting it together, up jumps a unlovable neighbor.
It gives me a belly ache. I’ll twist and turn all night battling the internal rage, until…
“Love thy neighbor,” that man of peace implored. And there it is, the belly ache’s antacid, the calming of the internal rage, a simple phrase to love. Of course.
Another similar circumstance echoed during this new (and lesser) challenge. The person at that earlier time really, really piled on the liver—and it was raw to boot! There was no visible means of getting this person to stop forcing his/her vile behavior upon me and those I loved, until…
Done with the hapless gut-wrenching I turned to prayer. My pulse slowed from a Class VI white water run to a soothing rhythm as my prayers deepened. I prayed for that person’s good and well-being. I said in my prayers how much I loved that person. Loved? Yes, as I grew to love my neighbor through these prayers, the neighbor simply disappeared from my life. Poof! Gone!
Tanya, maybe unknown to her, became the focus of my prayers. Tanya no longer affects me. My personal she-devil sleeps as I began to love thy neighbor.
How do you “love” an unlovable neighbor?