The hardest command in the Bible, (and there are a lot of them), has to be “Love your enemy.” Another tough one is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But what happens if your enemy and your neighbor are one and the same?
My wife and I have experienced a lot of bad neighbors in our twenty years of marriage:
Our first apartment had a common court yard. The neighbors in the back sat on their second story porch literally and figuratively looking down on us mocking us whenever we went outside. I tried winning them over by talking with them and reasoning with them, but we ultimately had to move.
The second place we lived had a drunk neighbor who lived in the front house. He would leer at my beautiful wife regularly. In the back, another neighbor had a broom fight with one of her friends over their back fence. (Yes, we watched.) Another neighbor to the side of us refused to keep their pit bull locked up despite our concerns that we newborns crawling around. (And they were just weird, too. The mom was a member of The Le Leche League and had her 5-year-old suckling her teet.)
When we moved to South Redondo Beach, which is an upper middle class area, we thought that the people might be a bit higher in class.
Before we even moved in, our potential new neighbor tried to convince the landlord that he shouldn’t rent to us though we had never met before. After we moved in, she would leave nasty notes on our back porch because she didn’t like our crying 2-year-old. She ended up getting evicted.
Who moved in next? A drug addicted stripper.
Another neighbor to the south of us hated squirrels. We came home one day to find half of our beautiful eucalyptus tree cut down—by him—so the squirrels wouldn’t perch there. Then he left poison on our mutual fence for our dogs or kids to possibly eat.
We then bought our very first home in a very nice, upper middle class neighborhood. Whatever could go wrong?
I befriended a 70-year-old tough-guy Jewish man, the kind of hard-scrabble ex-thug who grew up on the streets of New York City. We bought each other lunch and had a fine relationship—for one year. On the 366th day of our friendship, he turned on my family complaining that our dogs barked too much. (I monitored the situation. Yep, they barked for a total of two minutes a day, way too much for a stay-at-home curmudgeon with a chip on his shoulder.)
The second year of our relationship had me tolerating nasty, expletive-laden hand-written notes left on our front porch, along with F-bomb texts multiple times a week. When he followed our pre-pubescent girls down the street in his car, we knew it was time to move.
To Texas. The Friendly State.
We had high hopes for a great relationship with our new neighbor who lived about a half mile away. We lived on seven acres and had lots of room. Who could bother us now?
We had to cross his property for a thousand feet on what is known as an easement. “In Texas,” one Realtor said, “an easement is a four letter word.” I’m going to spare you all the details of this one year relationship, but let me sum it up by saying our neighbor hammered “No Trespassing” signs on both ends of the easement we used. He subtly threatened to shoot us, and has done many other intimidating things. We sat down for breakfast to talk things out but he left, stubbornly refusing a compromise.
We had two state mediations with lawyers and the situation may finally be remedied after spending thousands of dollars, but I don’t know if our relationship will ever be improved unless God intervenes directly.
Still, we are to love them, that’s why we gave them gifts (which were returned). And that’s why we pray for them. And bless them. And do good to them.
But the last straw was about a month ago when they called the Sheriffs on us. What did we do? What horrendous crime did we commit?
My wife went to work in the morning and noticed their son’s horse was loose in our neighbor’s lower pasture. She was concerned that he might get hurt because of all the debris in that portion of their property and she asked me to tell our neighbor’s son.
Despite all the “No Trespassing” signs erected on our behalf I crossed the barbed wire fence and knocked on the son’s door. “Uh, excuse me. I hate to disturb you but I wanted to let you know that your horse is loose in the lower pasture and we didn’t want it to get hurt.”
The son’s response? “Go away, Steve. You’re trespassing.”
Like father, like son.
Then I got a text from his dad: “Where our horse is on our property is not your concern. TRESPASSING WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. You will be filed on.”
The Sheriff did call and left this message: “I understand that you wanted to help your neighbor by telling him his horse was loose and he filed a ‘no trespassing charge.’ ”
When I talked to him in person, he said, “We Sheriffs see a lot and have an opinion on things, but sometimes we better just keep them to ourselves.”
Yes, even the Sheriff understood what was going on.
More importantly, God knew what’s up and understands the type of man our neighbor is because He made him in His image. And just like God loved me when I was His enemy, so, too, I am to love my enemy, my neighbor. The biblical mandate is clear:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Perhaps God will use me to save him as I continue to love my enemy, my neighbor.
Then we can both walk on that narrow road.
(Scripture reference: Romans 12:14-21)
A Chronicle of Our Continued Issues. Prayer requested.
As of 1/6/16: We currently have a road man working to build our new road but the ground is too wet and his equipment keeps getting stuck. He can’t finish by our deadline of January 10. We need our neighbors to extend the deadline or we will not be able to get to or from our home. There has been lots of trouble with these people.
As of 1/7/16: WE STILL NEED PRAYER for our difficult neighbor. He did not grant us an extension for the building of our easement. I went to the Sheriff and they affirmed that there is no way he can block our access to our home, which is probably what he will do. In fact, if he locks us in, it’s called “Unlawful Imprisonment.”
As of 1/8/16: We are consulting our lawyer on our options. Our neighbor started videotaping my wife as she walked on the main easement, not his. He is using intimidation tactics now. Thank you for praying for these updates.
As of 1/9/16: Our neighbor has blocked our road so we cannot get out. We’ve called the Sheriff and are hoping for an amicable outcome. We continue to pray a blessing on this man. Here’s our road in the picture:
As of 1/9/16 (later in the day): The Sheriffs came and said our new easement is sufficient. Please pray we don’t get stuck. It’s very muddy. Two road builders quit because they got stuck and won’t come back until it’s drier. So, our family will be trusting God each time we drive. We are hopeful that our road man will come out next week to finish our new easement.
As of 1/6/18: The new easement has been up now for two years and a 400 foot privacy fence in the back of our property. When I wave to my neighbor as we pass on the road, he waves back. His son still ignores me, though. It’s detente. An uneasy truce. I still pray for that family on occasion.