We were surprised. We simply didn't see it coming. We thought things were going well. We thought we'd built a good relationship. We thought that we'd been good neighbors. We lived in a twin house, with our landlady living in the attached home with her adult daughter. For reasons we couldn't understand, the daughter began to get mad at us. She would yell and curse at our children. She would play her stereo very loudly late at night, waking our children. She did everything she could to make our lives miserable. We didn't understand what was happening and everything we tried to do to make things better only made things worse.
Things came to a head on the Fourth of July. Months earlier she'd let us borrow a refrigerator that she wasn't using. Luella's parents were up for a visit and we'd gone out and bought more food than we'd normally have in the house. On a hot Friday afternoon we got a call from the landlady's daughter saying that she wanted her refrigerator back. We asked her why she needed it so suddenly and she told us that it was hers and she wanted it back in the garage by five o'clock. I couldn't believe it! What were we going to do with all the extra food that we'd bought? Why would she do this to us?
I was quietly angry all afternoon. I was tired of the tension. I was incensed at her meanness. And I rehearsed to myself over and over again what I'd like to say to her. Luella was making cinnamon rolls and as I walked into the kitchen to check on her progress, she suggested that we send a plate of fresh, hot rolls over to our landlady's daughter. I thought, "Yea, right, that's exactly what I was thinking!" But Luella wasn't finished. She then suggested that I write a note telling our landlady's daughter how much we cared for her and how much we were committed to having a good relationship with her. I think it was the hardest letter I ever had to write.
In about forty-five minutes I found myself at our landlady's front door, praying for a dog (some of you will get that later). I knocked and our landlady came to the door. I gave her the cinnamon rolls and she told me that after the way her daughter had treated us I must be some kind of nut doing such a thing. That afternoon we began to look for ways to do good anyway we could in the face of the evil way we were being treated.
For months we stayed committed to our love offensive, but with all of our noble efforts, nothing seemed to be changing. Then one spring afternoon, there was a knock at our door. The moment I saw our landlady's daughter, I thought to myself, "What now?!" When I got nearer to the door and could see that she was upset, I was even more concerned about what may be coming next. She asked if she could come in and talk to us. Luella and I sat down with her at our dining room table and listened as she said these amazing words to us. "You both know that for months I've been a very angry person. It hasn't been directed just at you. I've been angry with everyone in my life. I've destroyed all of my relationships. I've alienated everyone in my life. The only two people in the world who I'm sure love me are you and Luella. I'm here to ask for your forgiveness and to ask for your help. I want what's enabled you to respond to me as you have."
What's the point of the story? It surely isn't meant to highlight my character! I struggled to do what was right every day of those seemingly unending months. No, what the story points out is that in the messiness of our relationships, there's always something bigger going on. Our relationships are never just about us. They're never just about our plans, our purposes, and our happiness. They're never just about who we want to be around and what we'd like to offer or receive from those relationships. There’s always something bigger going on because there's a God who is sovereign. He puts us right where he wants us and he never gets a wrong address! In our relationships he takes us where we don't want to go in order to produce in us and others what we couldn't achieve on our own.
In those difficult months with our landlady's daughter, God wasn't only working to rescue her; he was working to rearrange me. The tough relationship wasn't the result of God's forgetfulness. It was a clear sign of his love, for us and for our landlady's daughter. So as you live and relate to the people in your life, there's one thing that you need to remember. You'll never fully understand what's happening and you'll never do and say the right thing until you begin to recognize and accept that in every relationship in your life there's always something bigger going on.
Paul David Tripp
- Have you had, or do you currently have, difficult neighbors? What are some things they do that irritate or anger you?
- Reflect on your irritation and anger. Are you angry because they violate God's will, or are you more angry because they're irritating your little kingdom?
- How could this difficult relationship expose sin and idolatry in your heart?
- How can you lavish your neighbor with Christ-like love, even when they make life miserable for you? Romans 5:6-8 is a great passage for situations like these.