Read His Words Before Ours!
“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor,” declared G.K. Chesterton. I believe the same truth applies to our families. Often, we subconsciously think of family as an entity apart from friend, foe, or neighbor.
For a LONG time in my life, family was in its own, separate category. I took family for granted, treating them in ways I would not treat anyone else. Familiarity can, indeed, breed contempt, and I was caught in its trap.
Something shifted, however, when I began to view my family as humans, and even more so when I applied the Biblical definition of neighbor to my loved ones. I believe we can and should view family as our neighbors, neighbors whose relational ties grant us access to their lives to show them Good Samaritan love.
I am both a mother and an aunt: mother to three, aunt to twenty nieces and nephews. There are 23 children in my life whom God chose for me to love like my neighbors.
Apart from my three children, most of my nieces and nephews do not actually live near me. Yet, they most certainly have been placed in my proverbial path, along with many other special kids from church and my neighborhood.
As Deuteronomy instructs, we can take on the mantle of responsibility and privilege to speak of Jesus not just to the children we bore from our own bodies, but the ones our brothers’ wives and sisters bore from theirs. We point them to God’s standard of holiness, while also and always reminding them of His promise to clothe us in His robes of righteousness when we fall short of that standard. (Colossians 2:13-15)
Whether it’s our nieces, nephews, or the kids down the street, we can demonstrate unconditional love both in word and deed.
A simple way to demonstrate love is to make eye contact when they are speaking or sharing something of import with us. We can forget how children, in particular, need that very sensory-oriented connection with us. Put the phone down to look at them. If your only interaction with them is when you greet them with a hug and say goodbye with another hug, be sure to look them in the eye. Giving them our whole attention in this manner declares both their value and our love for them.
Show interest in whatever interests them. This may involve a learning curve, especially as the age gap deepens. Even with my own children, I’ve had to posture myself as a student of their interests. We can sit with them and ask questions about the sport they play, the internet game they’re into, or the books they read. We might even do a little research ahead of time to know what questions to ask.
Another simple strategy is to recognize special days in their lives. Remember birthdays with a gift, card, or even just a phone call. We can request a heads-up for sporting events, fine arts performances, and any other extracurricular activity with which our nieces and nephews might be involved. Then, we can attend, if possible, or send a note of remembrance or encouragement to them ahead of their event. Celebrate championships, or even just a goal scored at their game.
As children grow older and have access to email or social media platforms, it’s easy to follow them and comment on their posts. This communicates that though we don’t see them daily, we think about them often. God has written them on your heart.
I encourage you to press in when you know they’re going through a challenging season. During a visit to my brother’s house, two of my nieces had a tough morning and simply couldn’t make themselves go to school that day. My brother and sister-in-law had to work, but I was still home visiting.
I took the opportunity to seek my nieces out in their pain, and asked if they wanted to talk. Surprisingly, they did. Both girls opened up to me about performance anxiety and hard social dynamics at school. Though they both had shared these troubles with their parents, there is something unique about being able to share it with an adult who is NOT one’s parent.
Being an aunt or uncle is an invitation to be a confidant, if we’re willing to press into the painful moments, too.
When we allow God to frame our view of neighbor to include our family, we ask God to give us a vision for demonstrating selfless love to our particular family, with its specific interests and needs. We can trust Him to guide and empower us to love our family like our neighbors.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!