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Cultivating Community With Your Neighbors

Air Date 02/13/2017

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Amy Lively offers practical suggestions for building friendships and sharing the love of Christ in your community in a discussion based on her book, How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird.

Episode Transcript



Amy Lively: There are people who are just waiting to be asked, waiting for someone to notice them, to see them, to care about them. There are people who are incredible Christians. They'll become our partners in our neighborhood. There are others who don't know God, don't want to know God. There are people of all faiths, no faith, all churches, no churches, just waiting to be seen.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Amy Lively is with us today on "Focus on the family and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Fuller

Jim Daly: Okay, so here's the question: how well do you know your neighbors?

John: How well do I know my neighbors? (Laughter) Well, some I know very well and I talk to frequently and there are a couple of people in the neighborhood I've never met and they've been there for three, four, five years.

Jim: Yeah, okay, that's probably the same.

John: You know, people that you say, "I think I know you," but I never talk to them.

Jim: Right, yeah and I have found those encounters to always be pretty good, you know. Your neighbors are right next door. We live in a neighborhood with more elderly folks and it's been wonderful to see Trent and Troy engage a couple of the neighbors to help them with their garbage and that's been a good experience.

John: It's just crackin' the ice and just starting the conversation that's hard.

Jim: It is and we want to talk today about how we do that. You know that Scripture, there's several Scriptures that point us in this direction. Matthew is a favorite. "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." And then also this, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

And so many times we're asking, what exactly is that? I mean, love your neighbor as yourself. We're gonna talk about how to love your neighbor today in a way that, you know, just could transform them.

John: And as I said, Amy Lively is our guest and she's had some firsthand experience with this. She launched something called The Rosewood Café, which was a neighborhood Bible study group in Lancaster, Ohio. And she shares that story and some great insights about the topic in her book, How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird. (Laughter)


Jim: Amy, welcome to "Focus."

Amy: Thank you very much for having me.

Jim: That's probably a good place to start. How do you do that without being weird? What does weird look like?

Amy: Yeah, weird to me looks like an agenda. Weird to me looks like you're going to your neighbor for the purpose of checking it off of your Christian to-do list. You know, loved my neighbor today, check, did that. Going to them with an agenda of making them stop their wild party or take their trash in or fix up their house or shut up their dog or anything else that you find personally offensive.

Jim: (Chuckling) Take their trash in, not take their trash out.

Amy: Yes, right, yeah.

Jim: That's what we like to do for our neighbors. We'll offer to help take their garbage out to the curb.

Amy: It's a great way to serve your neighbor.

Jim: I never thought about helpin' 'em take it in.

Amy: Weird is going to them with the sole purpose of converting them to think like you, look like you, worship like you, instead of going to them for their sake and to know them and care about them and to learn about them and to become involved in their daily rhythms of life.

Jim: What is it in the human personality that drives us toward the differences? You know, I don't like my neighbor because … and you can fill in the blank, whatever it might be. But at the core, what are we struggling with when we say that to ourselves?

Amy: Fear, I think fear of people who are different, people who think differently, look differently, vote differently, different signs in their yard, different songs on their radio. When we can point out how they're different, it elevates us. I think we sometimes think different is worse.

Jim: Amy, let me ask you about a statistic you used in your book where you said that despite having an average of 338 friends on Facebook, the every-day woman is lonely. Now most guys hear that, 338 friends; that seems like a lot of people to engage. But you're saying women particularly are lonely, even though they have that many Facebook friends.

Amy: Right, I think that social media like Facebook and Instagram and all the Pinterest, all of this, they fulfill our need for connecting with people, but I think that they're really a symptom of our need for relationships. They're not the full solution.

And so, what the research shows is that having a lot of online friends and scrolling through their feed and maybe clicking "Like" and now you can click "Love" or "Wow: or "Sad," it actually makes you more lonely because you're seeing a filtered view of people's lives. You're not seeing the real thing. You're not seeing the bad hair day and the crying child and the fights behind the closed doors. You're not seeing real life online.

And so, when you just scroll through that, it makes you feel like your real life isn't adequate. And we tend to isolate ourselves when we see other people's glorified lives online. I think things like Facebook can be an exceptional tool for connecting with people, making real friends, setting up a time to get together, praying with people, you know, even online.

I love Facebook. I use it in my ministry, in my real life all the time, but we do need to be careful that we don't think that it is real, [that] we don't think that it is a substitute for really sitting down eye-to-eye, face-to-face, not emoticons, but real, real emotions coming through.

Jim: Yeah and with your book, How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird, what gave you the idea to more systematically go about doing it, that you felt a need to begin to reach out to your neighbor? What started that spark?

Amy: The book came really out of my own failures to love my neighbors for one thing.

Jim: Okay, I appreciate that.

Amy: I'm not always a good neighbor. I wasn't even a good Christian, you know, let alone a good neighbor loving the people God put around me.

Jim: Let me press you a bit—

Amy: Okay.

Jim: --because describe one of those examples where you were being a poor neighbor, 'cause I'm sure we'll all be able to (Chuckling) connect with it.

Amy: Well, you know, being a poor neighbor doesn't necessarily mean that you've gone out and done something bad. It doesn't mean that you have been offensive or rude or hurtful or weird, you know, to your neighbors. Being a bad neighbor is just being disconnected. It is not being involved in people's lives. It is not knowing their names, not knowing their pains, not knowing their joys, not knowing what lights them up and what keeps them up at night. It's not being a part of your neighbors' lives. You don't have to do something to be a bad neighbor. You do nothing to be a bad neighbor.

Jim: So, God planted this in your heart to say, okay, start doing it differently.

Amy: Yeah.

Jim: Were you afraid?

Amy: Absolutely, I was terrified. First I was excited. When I first got the idea, I was very, very excited.

Jim: And what was the idea?

Amy: The idea was three little words, just as soon as I heard them makes my heart flutter, just a little pitter patter and ideas just started to flow and it was "neighborhood Bible study." When I heard those three words for the first time, I started in. That's what I'm gonna do.

And I knew what I was gonna call it immediately. I'd draw a little logo. I knew what I was gonna say on the invitation, just really kind of like a download of, hey, this is what you can do. I was so excited.

But then when kind of the reality set in of having to leave the comfort of my living room, get off my couch, go actually do something, lift my hand to knock on a door and face a person on the other side I had never seen before, you know, that became very scary. But I really liked the idea of loving my neighbors more than the reality of going out and getting to know them. And so, I struggled with it for probably about eight months from the idea and the excitement to the actual doing of it.

Jim: And did you hit that head on to say, okay, I'm gonna start a neighborhood Bible study? Is that how you knocked on the door and said, "Hi, neighbor, I'm gonna start this Bible study. Would you like to come?"

Amy: That'd be real weird, wouldn't it? (Laughter) That would be a little weird.

Jim: Very straightforward.

Amy: It was my first idea and it was the end result, but there were steps in between that. And as I did start to think about it and what I did during that eight months was, as I was struggling and arguing with God about why this was such a terrible thing for me to do, but it did start to come into focus and I realized that would be a little bit weird.

What would not be weird was just to invite people over for coffee, just at my kitchen table, just women sitting around talking is what we love to do. My particular focus was on women, but this obviously works for women and men, family.

So, instead of inviting them to a neighborhood Bible study, I invited them to an open house, just a time to come over, get to know me, get to know our other neighbors, just coffee, cookies, conversation.

Jim: So, pretty light touch.

Amy: Very light, yes.

Jim: You talked in the book about your fears and the excuses that you made and you touched on a couple, but be more specific for us. What were some of those fears that, I think as we think about how we can apply this in our own neighborhood, those same fears'll be present and the same excuses will be in our hearts like they were in yours. Name 'em for us.

Amy: Well, there were so many and varied. There's probably not an excuse or fear you have had that I have not already struggled with, so, if anybody has a new one, I'd love to hear it. My first and biggest was the excuse of, I don't have time.

Jim: Right, that would be one I'd use.

Amy: I don't have time. Who has? Who has time? I mean, we don't have time to go out and become involved in other people's lives? There's no margin for that in our homes. So, my first excuse was, I don't have time, but what it really was, was a fear of giving my time to God.

You know, you see it in tithing, if you've ever struggled with that or had victory in that and when we hold onto to what we think is ours, whether it's time or money or gifts or talents, God has a way of really squeezing it.

And so, what He did with my fear of committing my calendar to Him, was He really did squeeze my time. That eight months was a time of a holy spanking, of really a lot of godly discipline.

Jim: So, it really channeled your thinking and your heart. It kind of knit that together, didn't it?

Amy: It did, very much so. I had the excuse of, well, you know, I'm not spiritual enough. And that was just a fear of exposure, a fear of vulnerability, a fear of people asking hard questions. You know, are there dinosaurs in the Bible? And why is there suffering? And why do children get sick? And it was a fear of being called out and not having all the answers.

Jim: Not having an answer. How did you deal with that? I mean, how did that play out practically when you were hit with some things that maybe you couldn't answer, what did you do?

Amy: Well, first of all, that's not people's first questions, you know.

Jim: Right. (Laughter) Maybe the third or fourth one.

Amy: It actually doesn't really happen that often, so that's the first thing, like the fears don't actually come to fruition as we think they're going to. And secondly, when you start off with a motive of wanting to know people and care about them and love them and get to know them, when they ask you a hard question, you've got a little bit of a relationship foundation there to ask, "Why is that important to you? And tell me why this is on your heart." And you can ask questions about their questions. Jesus did that very, very well and you can say, "I don't have all the answers."

Jim: And that's okay.

Amy: And that's okay and these are things that I struggle with and the brightest theologians of our time struggle with this. People have struggled with this for all time. But I really care about your concerns and so, can we look into this together? And can we get together next week and I'll look and see what people smarter than me have had to say about this?

Jim: Yeah and I so appreciate the openness of these fears that you expressed, whether it's the idea that you're not spiritual enough or a practical one, I don't have time. I think those that come from our own doubts and maybe even from the enemy of our soul, the next one that you mentioned, having a past that you weren't proud of, that sounds like it's comin' right from the enemy, you know, putting doubt into your mind.

Amy: Oh, absolutely. The accuser comes and say[s], you know, who do you think you are?

Jim: How could you be good to that neighbor 'cause of what you did when you were 17 and 18 or whenever that may have happened?

Amy: Or yesterday.

Jim: Or yesterday. (Laughter)

Amy: Yeah, or yesterday when they ran over your flowers or you know, these are really just light examples.

Jim: Right.

Amy: People do have real, real problems with their neighbors. But yeah, Satan will always try to tell you you're not good enough and here's the truth. We're not. We're not spiritual enough. We don't have all the answers. We don't have time. All of my excuses were legit. And what I found through reading through the Matthew passage and all the other places where Jesus says, "Love your neighbor" and Old Testament says, "Love your neighbor," I'm looking for that asterisk and it's not in the Hebrew or the Greek, you know, the little exception clause. There is no exception clause. We have to rely on Christ's strength, not our own. We have to step out and this is the real stepping out in faith. It's just to step out of your front porch.

Jim: Sure, you had the experience with one of your neighbors. Now where did you do this? Here in Colorado or back in Ohio where you lived?

Amy: I was living in Central Ohio at the time—

Jim: Yeah.

Amy: --Lancaster, Ohio where I grew up.

Jim: And so, it started there and you mention in your book where one of your neighbors, whenever they would do their laundry, their soap would bubble up and come down into your yard.

Amy: Yeah, that's right. (Laughter)

John: Yeah, that was an interesting word picture.

Jim: Soap.

Amy: We were kind of on a slope and their house was above mine. You know, so, we were on a hillside. And one day I was in my laundry room looking out the window and I noticed this trickle of bubbles running down my yard. And I followed it up and it was coming from their yard.

Jim: Now see, I think that sounds kind of fun. (Laughter)

Amy: Well it was a septic system, yeah.

Jim: You saw that as an annoyance. Oh, it was!

John: Backin' up here, not a good idea.

Amy: So, I just saw the bubbles. (Laughter)

Jim: Maybe not a good thing there.

Amy: Yeah.

Jim: Don't play in that, kids, okay.

Amy: Yeah in that neighborhood we had septic and aeration systems, not like city sewer.

Jim: Right.

Amy: And so, everybody had their own system. And so, yeah, who knew what else was—

Jim: Lurking in the bubbles.

Amy: --lurking underneath it, yeah. (Laughter) And I had no relationship with these neighbors. We had a fence between us; we had trees between us. You know, our houses were back to back and the only time I'd ever been in their house was before they moved in when it was for sale, when the realtor had an open house and we have these open houses when we're moving out and I'm challenging people to have them when you're going to stay for a while.

So, I went there and I went straight to the back of their house. I wanted to see what could they see into my house? It's the only time. Hadn't gone over with the proverbial plate of cookies to say welcome to the neighborhood. Hadn't met them at all. So, the first time was when I had to go and say, "Hey, we have a little problem in the backyard.

And that's hard to approach somebody from the first with a problem. And so, that's one of the benefits of getting to know your neighbors. When you do have a problem, you know, you have some history to fall back on.

John: History, yeah.

Amy: So, I knocked on the door and said, "We have problem" and met Bill for the first time and he was a very intimidating kind of guy."

Jim: "You don't like my bubbles?" (Laughter)

Amy: Yeah, well, he wasn't the "throw open the door; give me a big hug"—

John: Yeah, "Come on in."

Amy: --"nice to meet you" neighbor kind of guy.

Jim: Oh, that made it even more difficult.

Amy: Yeah and he came down and he looked at the backyard and he crossed his arms over his chest and he said, "Well, if that was my yard, I wouldn't like it and I'll take care of it." And he did. It cost him thousands of dollars to fix that.

Jim: Oh, he had to redo [it], yeah.

Amy: Yeah, so I became friends with him and his wife and they were such sweet people. She particularly became a really close friend of mine and just through that initial conversation and them taking care of the problem. And we did a yard sale the same weekend together. Well, she had great stuff, too at her yard sale. I still have some of the little antiques I bought there. (Laughter)

But then [through] our church we were having small groups at our home and they encouraged us to invite our neighbors. And I thought, oh, my goodness. What am I gonna do here? And so, I went and invited both of them to our small group in our home.

And he did not come, but she did and [we] got to know her. She was an incredible woman of faith that was praying up a storm in my backyard for four years and I didn't even know it. But I never would've met her if I hadn't knocked on her door.

And we were with her then through her husband's death and got to be good friends with that. But what really touched me about my relationship with Becky was that, I just said to her one time, "I was really surprised when you came to our house." And she said to me, "Well, I was surprised you asked."

And there are people who are just waiting to be asked, waiting for someone to notice them, to see them, to care about them. There are people who are incredible Christians. They'll become our partners in our neighborhood. There are others who don't know God, don't want to know God. There are people of all faiths, no faith, all churches, no churches. And they are just waiting to be seen.

Jim: That's a good statement. You're listening to "Focus on the Family." I'm Jim Daly, along with John Fuller and we're talking to Amy Lively about her book, How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird. (Laughing) I like that little end. Amy, I want to ask you because it seems that in our modern culture, that we are moving away from relationship, which at the core, when you look at God's admonitions, His instructions and even how He is described often, He is about relationship and He wants us to have relationships for all the positive reasons that hopefully, we introduce people to Him and they accept Christ and their chaos can be put in place with God's peace and good things for them will happen, not easy always, but they'll be in a better place and hopefully with eternity obviously, that heaven will be theirs because of their embrace of Christ.

Why have we lost the art of discipleship that we only want to talk to the people that think the way we think? Why in the Christian community and this is a broad stroke, I get that, but we seem to be fearful or not up to the challenge now to meet with people who are different. And I think it hurts and causes God pain that we're not willing to engage, when He said, "Be a friend of sinners," in essence, I'll demonstrate it for you. The Pharisees and the Sadducees accused Him of being a friend of sinners and hangin' out with the wrong crowd, but He wants us to do that, doesn't He?

Amy: Yeah, even in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus blew up the whole definition of "neighbor," the Samaritan and the Jew were mortal enemies. They hated one another and that's where Jesus came in and said, this is where you need to show mercy.

So, I can't speak for the whole world. I would answer you for myself as to why I was isolating myself in my Sunday school groups, in my small groups, in my Bible studies, in the church services, in the Christian school environment, for me personally, the reason I didn't step out and engage with my neighbors was because it was hard and I was lazy.

Jim: Lazy.

Amy: Well, that was just me. That was just me.

Jim: Not fear. I would think fear would be up there and maybe it was.

Amy: Well, lazy about overcoming my fear, you know.

Jim: Okay, (Laughing) so, lazy captures it all.

Amy: Yeah, lazy captures it all. I was spiritually lazy in obeying Christ's No. 2 command. He said, "It's as important as loving God." The purpose of our salvation is not only for our eternity, but to share that glory, so our joy may be complete when we share it with other people. It's not for ours alone. And that's what gets weird, you know, when we go to other people or we think we're doing this for our sake, it's for God's glory that we do this.

Jim: Right and then you have to just trust the results will be His, even if the door gets slammed in your face--

Amy: Absolutely.

Jim: --and not feel that rejection too deeply.

Amy: We're not responsible for their response.

Jim: Did you get one of those or two of those or a handful of those?

Amy: A very small amount. You'd be surprised. You'd be surprised. People are generally delightful and delighted to see you. When I would knock on their door, I would say, "Hello, my name is Amy. I live right over there. I'm having an open house. I'm inviting all the people in our neighborhood. Please come over to share a snack and I'd love for you to come. I've lived her for X number of years." I think at the time I started it was seven years. "And I don't know very many of my neighbors. I just want to change that."

And most of them would say, "Me, too. I don't know my neighbors and I would like to." Because we understand it makes our neighborhood safer. It makes us feel more secure. It's how we solve problems together. It's good for the economy. It helps people live longer.

Jim: Yeah.

Amy: We talked about the loneliness and how it's killing us literally.

Jim: So true and Amy, one of the things I think God wiring us and knowing how the wiring is in us emotionally, the fact that He said, "Love your neighbor," I think something takes place when people feel the sincerity coming from a neighbor, even if you're strangers. But it's as if, even if they disagree with you, it's as if their heart breaks open and they're almost compelled to be a friend.

Amy: Yeah, it's a beautiful thing.

Jim: I mean, you're right. It's the very few, the small percentage that is going to outright reject what you have to say or you as a person because of what you believe. And that takes courage.

Amy: And it is a very small, small number who will slam the door and not accept your handshake or your smile.

Jim: And that's a methodology you have. You have the open house. People come. You had snacks together; you laughed together. You might even cry together if somebody has cancer or you know, they're facing some difficulty in the family and that bonds people together. And then what you're aiming for is people to say, "Hey, I'm gonna do a Bible study. Would you like to participate?" Something like that.

Amy: Never hid the fact that I was gonna have a Bible study. I didn't want to do like a bait and switch, you know, to have them over, because I've had people do that to me.

Jim: Right.

Amy: You know, invite me over for coffee and then show me their vitamin sales, you know (Laughter) and how people do that. I know what that feels like. I didn't want to trick people. What I would say if they're having an open house, everyone is invited. And we're gonna continue to get together after a few weeks. We're gonna do a book study, Bible study, depending on, you know, what I was gonna be talking about for that season. I'd love for you to come, but if you're not interesting, please just come for the open house and meet some neighbors.

But you know what? You don't have to do a Bible study. You don't have to. You can continue having open houses. You can have scrapbooking clubs. You can have holiday card-making parties.

Jim: Just building relationship.

Amy: It's building relationships, you know and I can give you 355 ways to love your neighbor, but those are just touch points. Those are just tools. Those are just ways to create opportunities to have conversations and make connections and start to get to know people. And then take it to the next step and then take it a little bit deeper. It happens very slowly, very gradually, very naturally, but it does open the door for those spiritual conversations. But see, it's not a checklist. It's not a, had the holiday party and I'm done.

Jim: Right.

Amy: I helped, you know, I sent a check; I'm done. I did the coat drive; I'm done. It's really a lifestyle of relationships.

Jim: Let me ask you this. The folks that I've talked to that have done something similar, just to get to know the neighbors around them, what they found over time is that, neighbors did not have deep relationships, as well. And when difficulty would hit their doorstep in the way of a health issue of something like that, this Christian couple became the go-to couple in the neighborhood where people would either call or they'd be invited in to talk to them. Have you seen that result that you become kind of the go-to couple, the go-to family for your neighbors who are suffering?

Amy: Yes and there is no higher honor to be on the short list when people give you a call when there's a crisis or when there's a celebration. My challenge was, how would my neighbors know that was me? By the little cross in my garden? You know, was it the bumper sticker on my van? They don't know that by the religiosity that we show in our home. They know that by the conversations.

Jim: It's where we should be.

Amy: Yeah.

Jim: It's exactly where the Lord would want us to be is helping that neighbor in that way. Wow, Amy, this has really gone by quickly and I hope you will take this to heart, every one of us listening today, that this could become part of what you do as a family. I know for our family, we've looked for these opportunities. I had the blessing of a neighbor come by just the other day and say that her husband was struggling. It chokes me up even thinking about it, but that she wanted to know if I'd be willing to come over if he falls, so that I could pick him up, 'cause she wasn't strong enough. Wow, isn't that a metaphor?

Amy: It is; it is such a metaphor.

Jim: And it is a privilege and an honor to say, "Absolutely, day or night, I don't care what time it is, 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning, just call me."

Amy: Yeah.

Jim: And that's what the Lord does for us every day.

Amy: This parable of the Good Samaritan is happening on our streets right now. There are people fallen on the side of the road, on the road that was between church and home. That's where we live and our calling is the same as Christ said, "Go and do likewise. Show mercy."

Jim: Yeah, show mercy. Wow, this has been good. Amy, thanks for reminding us of one of the core mandates that the Lord has given us, to show His mercy, His kindness, His grace, His love through us as, you know, imperfect people, but to do it in a way that honors Him and hopefully, draws people toward Him. You've done a beautiful job in your book, How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird. Well done.

Amy: Thank you.


John: And obviously, we'd love for you to contact us and to get your own copy of this book and a CD or download of our conversation for some motivation, some inspiration, to maybe press through some of those fears and concerns you have, so you can be there in a relationship with your neighbors, maybe at a point of need.

Again, the book, How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird. We have it available at just call us and we can tell you more. The number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And please make a contribution to support the work of Focus on the Family, as we come alongside and encourage and equip believers and help you make a difference. Your gift, no matter how large or small, will make a difference and when you contribute to the work here, we'll send a copy of Amy's book to you and trust that that'll be an empowering tool in your hands. Again, our number, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. Dr. Greg Smalley shares practical advice on how you can improve intimacy in your marriage.


Dr. Greg Smalley: And the worst question you can ever ask in a relationship, in a marriage is, "How can I have a better marriage?"

Jim: Yeah.

Greg: It takes two people to have a great marriage. I think the better question is, "What can I do to be a better husband, to be a better wife?"

End of Clip

John: More from Dr. Greg Smalley on the next "Focus on the Family," as we help you and your family thrive.

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Amy Lively

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Amy Lively is passionate about helping women manifest the gifts God has given them, especially so that they can share the love of Christ with their neighbors and community. She is author of the book How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird, as well as a public speaker and blogger. Amy and her husband, David, have a grown daughter and reside in Colorado. Learn more about Amy by visiting her website,