I grew up on a fairly long cul-de-sac where most everyone knew each other. There were 12 houses there when we got there and about 15 or so by the end of the time my parents lived there. There was no neighborhood association. There were no membership fees. There were just neighbors.
When my wife and I first got married, we lived on a cul-de-sac with about 6 houses on it. We didn’t know our neighbors quite as well, but there was no neighborhood association. No membership fees.
Our second house was on a cul-de-sac again. There was an association with fees. We knew our neighbors and still keep up with some of them years later. It was a neat community.
When we moved to our current house, it was in a neighborhood with an association, fees, pools, and grievances. We found this out early on during our time there.
Less than a year after we moved there, we had our second child. I had started seminary a few months before he was born and was traveling for school, getting accustomed to my new job, and trying to keep up with the responsibilities that were required of me in all of the various roles that I held.
One afternoon, I went to the mailbox to see what wonders awaited. As I thumbed through the various flyers and junk mail that had come, I came upon an envelope that looked somewhat official. I knew that it had to be something more significant than the rest of the mail by its appearance, so I quickly opened it up. Lurking inside within the envelope was my introduction to grievances, someone had filed one against me because weeds had grown up in our landscape beds around our fence.
There was a number on the letter which I called. The person with whom I spoke had driven out themselves to see our “infraction” and had noticed an “It’s a boy!” balloon tied to our mailbox. That was a pretty clear sign to them that there were other things going on in my life. As we spoke, she was very gracious and made sure that the time frame they had given me would work for me. Despite the frustrating situation, I hung up the phone feeling like I had spoken to someone who had cared.
As I thought more about it, I wondered why the person who had filed the grievance hadn’t come to my door. Why had they chosen to remain anonymous? Why had they not found out what was going on in my life first? Why hadn’t they offered to help out?
Recently, a neighbor of ours had some grievances filed against them. The bus stop conversation one day was about grievances, and it brought back to life all of the thoughts that I had had when the grievance had come against me.
Thinking more about it has helped me to understand one important aspect to life that we often forget as we frantically move from event to event to event: there’s always something going on beneath the surface. It’s helped me to realize that if there’s evidence of neglect or something wrong on the outside, chances are pretty good that there is something deeper inside that needs to be addressed.
How many times have I driven by a neighbor’s yard and looked in frustration at something only to find out that they have been out of work for 6 months or that their child has been very sick or that they have lost a loved one? How many times have I jumped to the outward conclusion without digging deeper to find out what the cause of the problem really is?
It’s easy to anonymously file a grievance against someone because you don’t like how things look. What’s a little bit harder is taking the time to check in with them, to see what’s going on in their lives. What’s a little bit harder is finding out why the thing that makes me mad is actually happening. When we do that, when we take the time, it’s worth so much more than being able to look at weedless yards or mowed grass or perfectly painted houses.
Frankly, I would much rather take the time to see what’s going on in the house than worry so much about what it looks like on the outside. Things could be stellar on the outside and broken on the inside, but we won’t know if we don’t take the time to check.