4 Ways to Be a Neighbor to Those Closest to Us

Dead at 56.

That’s what caught my attention.

The number.

The description.

Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer last week. Even if you don’t know who he is, you’re familiar with his creations.



Mac computers.


“Toy Story.”

…et al.

His death has been the topic of the past week in the news and among bloggers. I’m sure you’ll see his face plastered on magazine covers at your local grocers or Walmart soon.

I didn’t know the man. In fact, until recently, I couldn’t even have told you who he was. He didn’t play football or appear on a USA Network sitcom. My sphere of celebrity influence is miniscule.

I read an interesting thought from the Recovering Legalist who quoted the Seeking Pastor. “I never prayed for him.” I don’t disagree with the sentiment but the statement surfaced a general trend in my life—to connect with celebrity lives at a distance while remaining disconnected to my neighbors close at hand.

When I went to a Yankees-Royals game in August, I saluted Mario Rivera, New York’s ace reliever, as if we were best friends. I wrote about this exchange in “How Does the Past Affect the Present?” Mario should know me because I’ve watched an ESPN special and read several features in Sports Illustrated about him. How can he not know who I am when I’ve spent so much time reading up on him?

Is he married? Does he have kids? Has he faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?

Yes, yes, and yes.

See, I do know him.

And my next door neighbor Kevin? Where does he work? What’s his girlfriend’s name? Do they have a child? What’s the condition of his relationship with Christ?

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I think so but I’m not sure.

That last question is very personal and private. How should I know the condition of Kevin’s soul?

C’mon. Give me a break. At least I know his name.

See what I mean about that celebrity connect and the neighbor disconnect?

So what do we do to become neighbor to the real live people nearest us?

1) Engage in their world. Even as I write the words “their world,” I imply a distinction that doesn’t exist in my mind and create an our-world-vs.-their-world mentality that I would in no way encourage. So I need to clarify.

Take genuine interest in the community around you. My wife Ellen does a great job of this as she engages children and their parents in her position as the local children’s librarian. She knows a lot of the kids (think rock star status among the preteens, especially 8 to 10-year-old girls). She knows names, family connections, reading preferences, and stuff which interests them. She listens. She asks questions. She seeks updates.

2) Expand your interests. Football ranks number one among my sports interests. And I’ve had the privilege of coaching it. Weight lifting, though a part of a good football program, doesn’t interest me much at all. Yet during this last off season, where could you find me?

In the weight room!


Because that was where I could connect with the players. I coached the freshman team last year but got to know the upper classmen a lot better in the weight room. That’s where I could talk to seniors about their post-high-school plans. That’s where I could listen about problems with a friend or girlfriend or at home.

My football contract didn’t get renewed for 2011 so now I’m looking to connect on the baseball diamond in 2012. I’ve continued to expand my interests in order to engage our high school youth in their world.

3) Learn to ask questions. When you meet a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger, asking questions is a way to allow the other person center stage. Remember my rock star wife. She puts children on center stage all the time and they adore her for it.

4) Listen. Points 3 and 4 are challenges for me. I have to consciously prepare myself to ask questions and to listen for answers. I’ve often introduced myself, asked the other person his or her name then launched into a generally one-sided conversation. When I step away from that initial introduction, I realize I can’t remember the other person’s name. Why? Because I didn’t listen. I was too busy preparing my next brilliant conversational gem.

Question: What would you add to the list of ways to become a neighbor to those closest to you?

Interesting, at least to me, what happened today after I wrote this article. I’ll clue you in with my next post.

Book reviews:

Rumors of God by Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

About tnealtarver

I've traveled and spoken around the world but always love to come home. There I eat exceptional meals, drink coffee to my heart's content, and get loved like nowhere else on earth. I believe a community centered in Christ should be all that and so much more.
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2 Responses to 4 Ways to Be a Neighbor to Those Closest to Us

  1. Thanks for the quote, sir. You do make a very valid point, also. But to clarify what I was thinking, sometimes the people we see the most are the lonliest and least-loved (in a genuine sense). As we are told in Scripture to pray for our leaders, it only seems a slight variation to pray for those who lead our culture’s trends.

    But again, your point is completely valid. We are more likely to learn about the life of a stranger we meet on vacation than the neighbor across the street.

  2. tnealtarver says:

    Yep, your article covers a different aspect based on a significant event and you did it well. Steve Jobs death prompted a lot of blog chatter and, for me, an interesting moment of reflection.

    Glad to offer a link to both you and Matt. It’s always good to check out a quote when you can. A friend posted a quote recently. “With today’s widespread Internet use, it’s difficult to confirm quotes.–Abraham Lincoln.” Made me laugh. (Although I’m not sure I quoted that correctly. I guess I’ll have to look it up on the Internet.)

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