My childhood ruined me for apartment living, yet living in an apartment has been my reality for the past eighteen years. I grew up running around on a five acre lot off of a dirt road. My parents still live there, and when I visit, I try to soak up the absolute peace and quiet that comes from the wide distances between neighbors. Back at home, my 950-square-foot apartment doesn’t even have a patio. Every time a neighbor stomps up or down the stairs, it reverberates through the building. Over the past several years, we’ve dealt with the noise problem through a string of different neighbors, but now we also have an odor problem to deal with. Here in this wealthy county of this first-world country, there are people who choose to live in filth, and it spills out of the apartment into the common area. Complaining about the smell seems to have resulted in some action on their part. The problem is that everything they do, they do in the middle of the night. So, now I am sleep-deprived, which brings out the worst in me. Getting enough sleep is one of the factors that allows me to keep my depression under control. This week, I’ve been on the brink of losing my composure. There may be other issues affecting my mental state; I can’t be sure. But if this blog isn’t coherent, I am definitely blaming the sleep issue!
In all of this, I am feeling overcome by my own shortcomings. Every time I complain about one of my neighbors, I sense my own failure as a Christian. There are so many sins plaguing me, that it is difficult to know where to start. As I have pointed out in previous blogs, I try not to wallow in guilt, as it is unproductive. Yet, here I am spinning circles and not moving forward. We are called to love our neighbors, and no matter how much I try and pray, I never even come close being the kind of neighbor that Jesus calls me to be. While I am already struggling with other sins, lately, this neighbor issue nags me to the core.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
We are to strive for holiness – for sanctification – and to be more Christ-like. The Spirit is our Helper in this; it is not a work that we can do alone. We know that we cannot be perfect this side of heaven, yet we are to “lay aside. . .sin which clings so closely.” The Spirit, at times, will make us aware of specific sins, bringing them to the forefront to be dealt with. So it has been with me, for the past couple of months, as I have struggled to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) I find myself weary of these constant battles. As I have tired of the fight, a verse has kept coming into my mind: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4) It is God’s reminder to me that I am still swimming in the kiddie pool.
So, as my sister and I begin to box up our stuff, in preparation to escape as soon as our lease is up, there is this thought in the back of my mind: can a new place to live be better if I am still the same sinful, unloving neighbor? Being awakened by a slammed door at 2:15 a.m. is an exclamation point on the decision to move. Yet wherever we go, I’ll still be me. I will still long for the quiet of a rural setting, and I will continue to expect a degree of courtesy that is no longer common. I tell myself that I wasn’t made for this, but there is the Spirit, again, saying, “Yes, you were.” I am supposed to love these neighbors in spite of the door slamming, dog howling, and garbage smells. But I don’t even know my neighbors’ names. I have nicknames for people who live around me. Over the years, I have made an effort to greet people when they move in, and to try to know them as people instead of as disturbances. But it always seems to devolve into a situation of vexations and grief. God, help me!
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
I know people at church who are lights for Christ in their neighborhoods. I want to blame my introverted personality for not being more friendly and connected with the people around me. I know that God doesn’t abide such excuses; He sees my heart. I see it, too. I am in great need of prayer, study of Scripture, and learning from those who are ahead of me on this journey. Most of all, I need to clothe myself in the humility that is appropriate for a follower of Christ, not to mention for a grown woman stuck in the kiddie pool.