All the world stopped for twenty four hours as Boston and the surrounding area went through what is now the famous “Blizzard of 2015.”
Yesterday, as I sat in complete comfort with sun pouring through my windows, able to work from home, I began to pray for refugees. These are prayers I pray all the time; prayers where my heart aches and my soul begs.
Some of the things I think about as I pray for refugees is sanitation and disease. Any time you have a huge number of people in a small space, with limited water, housing, and food, then you have potential for disease break outs. From dysentery to malaria, the setting is perfect for epidemics. And while I’m not a clean freak, I love clean. I love the smell of clean.
A few hours later, when I had turned my short attention span to other things, I heard water running. I thought nothing of it initially. I had just started the dishwasher. But the sound grew louder and I knew this was not normal. Realizing the sound was coming from a bathroom, I ran to it and there it was — water pouring from the light fixture on the ceiling. Literally pouring.
Knowing it was coming from our upstairs neighbors I ran upstairs and knocked ferociously on their door. No answer. I ran downstairs as the water continued to pour onto my floor. I emptied a two-gallon pan. It continued to pour. I wrote an email to the owner who lives in San Francisco. The water continued to pour. I ran upstairs again. The water continued to fill a second pan.
I will spare the details but the people living upstairs had a clogged toilet that they thought would magically disappear. Funny thing – it did magically disappear! Through their floor and into our ceiling and down to my bucket.
And I was really mad. But I kept on saying “No worries. No big deal. I can clean it up. No worries. No big deal. It will get fixed. No worries. No big deal.”
What I wanted to say was “It’s a big ‘fill in the blank’ deal. And I’m tired of neighbors like you. And I’m tired of you not taking out the garbage. And I’m sick of your pacing back and forth with heavy boots.” All this stuff came up in me like vomit.
But I just kept on saying “No big deal.” Because I had prayed for refugees that morning and compared to what’s going on in Iraq and Syria those words are true.
So there are two things going on here – One is that neighbors can be hard to love. Really hard. I would far rather go across the ocean to work in a refugee camp near the Syrian and Iraqi borders and show love there than show love to my neighbors. My neighbors are white. My neighbors are middle-class. My neighbors are spoiled. My neighbors are irresponsible. My neighbors are frankly, not very loveable. And actually they would probably say the same of me.
As I think back on neighbors, I realize that no matter where we have lived in the world, we have had times where we struggled with neighbors. At one point in Cairo our neighbors used to listen to our phone calls. In Islamabad they would order us around. In Phoenix we had a neighbor that yelled at us and threatened to call the Home Owner’s Association when our lemon tree grew into their yard. And in Cambridge they let the toilets overflow through our ceiling.
GK Chesterton says this “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” and these wise words hit me hard yesterday.
The second thing is this: As much as I wanted to whine, and curse, and proclaim that this was “a big deal and why don’t you unclog your toilet?” in the big scheme of things it really is so small. So.Small. Yukky? Yes. Annoying? Undoubtedly? But life-changing, soul-damaging, despair-filling? Never.
Clogged toilets and ‘hard to love’ neighbors and refugees — all reminders that I don’t have what it takes to deal with any of these. Reminders of how much I need Jesus. Reminders that no matter where I am in the world, these Biblical truths stand.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6: 26-31