Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Loving your Neighbor is Hard

We live on a hillside overlooking the city of Sarajevo. Yesterday morning, the snow-covered roofs glowed orange as the sun peaked around our hill and flooded down into the valley. Ours is an old neighborhood. Some families have lived on this hill for hundreds of years. Others, settled more recently in the post-war migration that affected all of Bosnia-Hercegovina. We are a village in a city.

If you have ever lived in a village, you know that each has its own “needy family.” Ours lives across the street. The husband has diabetes and is constrained to the house. The wife sits on our street corner asking passers-by for a cigarette or some change. When we pull up to our house, she comes to the car and sticks her head in the window (or, in winter, knocks on the window). “When are you going to come over?” she asks.

Loving Your Neighbor is Right

A year and a half ago we started buying food for her family. My daughter Izzy and I would walk down the hill on a Sunday afternoon, buy armloads of groceries, and deliver them to her.  I still remember her face the first time we crested the hill, plastic bags in tow.

“What do you have there?” she asked in her usually over-inquisitive way.

“We have some groceries for you.”

“You have a bag of groceries for me?”

“No, all of these are for you.”

“You have two bags for me.”

“No, all of these are for you.”

Her usually disheartened face was overtaken by a smile. “Really?”

To be honest, it felt good. Izzy and I looked forward to our monthly Sunday grocery run. “Loving my neighbor” accessed a colder part of my heart and warmed it.

It also broke my heart.

On our second delivery, she invited us into her home. They live in an abandoned house that is scheduled for destruction. As we ascended the creaky wooden steps, the stench filled our nostrils and Izzy clung to my leg. They effectively live in one room of this empty building—drafty windows and sagging floorboards—scrapping together whatever they can find to eat on the husband’s disability payment. We returned home sobered.

How could we NOT help? How could I lay in my warm bed and ignore my neighbor?

Loving Your Neighbor is Hard

For the past 18 months we have continued to bring food and help with some of their bills. Sometimes I get that initial feeling of joy and satisfaction that was so evident the first time Izzy and I ascended the hill. But mostly, it is frustrating. She rings our doorbell late at night or early in the morning with a new bill to be paid. She constantly asks if I have paid it yet. No matter how much we give, she asks for more. “Did you bring oil this time?” “We don’t have any milk.” She is persistent and pushy and sometimes I just want her to go away.

Loving my neighbor would be easier if she were more grateful, less pushy, and would leave me alone when I am trying to put the kids in the car in the rain. The glamour of the idea has passed, now I simply have the grind of being a good neighbor. Sometimes I feel guilty for my attitude.

Loving your neighbor is hard; maybe that’s why so few people do it. (click here to tweet this)

There is a lesson here for you and I. If we help others simply because of the warm feeling we get, we won’t last long. Truly helping others—loving your neighbor—is tedious, laborious work. It is hard. But it is right. As with all noble and important things in life, true success comes to those who chose to do what’s difficult each day in faith that change will come in the long-term.  It is walking down the hill and back even when you don’t feel like it. Because it is right.

What do you think?

Have you found it difficult to love your neighbor? to help others? Let me know below in the comments.

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