My wife and I bought our house six years ago, after having lived in a maintenance-free condo for the first few years of our marriage. A multi-family property across the street from our church property became available, and I knocked on the door and made an offer before it was even put on the market. As a result, we got a pretty decent deal on the house, considering the inflated market at that time. This was a blessing. I knew the house needed work. It needed a roof, a furnace, plumbing, and more. Not to mention a full cosmetic makeover, which we knew would be gradual. I was enthusiastic about the challenge and adventure of rehabbing the house, but quickly realized some things about myself. First of all, I’m not handy. Not in the least bit. I’m not one to simply “figure out” how to rip down a wall and put up a new one. The mere thought of such an undertaking makes me anxious. Secondly, I realized how short my attention span truly is. I start a project, and I start thinking of other projects. Then I get overwhelmed by the other stuff and the initial project takes exponentially longer than it should have in the first place! All this to say, six years later we are still working on the functionality and beautification of our urban home.
Unfortunately, not everyone in our neighborhood shares our enthusiasm. Most of the block is not owner-occupied. I won’t get into a sociology lesson here, but in short, nihilism breeds nihilism. If landlords neglect the needs of their tenants, in return tenants don’t typically go out of their way to contribute to the upkeep of the property. This is just my observation, particularly about the apartment building next to our home. Initially, the building was nearly vacant, but a few years ago it was purchased, “rehabbed,” and converted into condominiums. Which did not sell. The apartments were then rented out, and the property owner all but gave up on his investment. This has resulted in trash, and more trash. I’m talking about nasty, nasty garbage all over the property, including rotting food and dirty diapers. Which, of course, produce rats. Oh, and his fence fell over, so now there’s no barrier between our properties.
One day, I looked out my bedroom window, and something snapped. I was infuriated by the sight of the property! I remembered that the landlord’s phone number was on a sign on the front of the building, so I called and left me a firm message, reminding him that he had actually verbally committed to the betterment of our neighborhood when he purchased the building, but instead he has contributed to stereotypes that give our city a negative reputation. I wasn’t crass, but I was harsh. He ignored my call, so after a few days I called city hall and complained to the city health inspector. The health inspector also failed to respond (good thing my tax dollars are so well spent!). I then called the landlord, again. When he answered the phone, he was furious that I had the gumption to leave such a message, and he began cursing at me before he hung up the phone.
I sat for a moment and considered my position. I had acted reasonably, and I had not compromised my morals or even my Christian example. But I was getting nowhere fast. I called the landlord one last time, and tried a different approach. This time, I apologized for my harsh message, and considered that he may be in a financial rut due to the down economy. He confirmed my suspicions, and expressed his frustration, how difficult it has been to keep the building rented out, and how the equity was now negative simply due to the declining housing market. He stated that he was sorry for his attitude, and that it would be cleaned up by the next day. And it was. I was relieved, and overwhelmed by how close I came to mistreating my neighbor. My instincts were to protect my girls and my investment by expressing unrelenting anger. I’m thankful to the Holy Spirit for guiding me back to a Christ-like approach. I’m not going to lie, I also feared some sort of retaliation since another neighborhood property was recently severely vandalized. We just painted the house; I’d rather not re-paint! Feuding is childish, and I wanted this to end.
I Corinthians 13:5 says that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” (NIV) Love doesn’t keep a record of how many times we forgive, either. God’s grace does not diminish, and neither should ours! In our day-to-day interactions with one another, we need to consider our role as followers of Jesus. To handle these predicaments the way the world dictates often results in feuding and unnecessary grudges. I made it a point to let my neighbor know that his recollection of how I treated him was more important to me than my complaints. I told him I have a relationship with God, and that this was my first priority. Righteousness needs to be our goal in all circumstances.
II Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (NIV)