Challenge Day 26

Today’s Inspiration. Over the weekend I attended my cousin’s wedding and Bia Malu Uno. This is the last of a series of ceremonies that are part of Igbo wedding rites in the bride’s Nigerian culture. People from all over the world—literally—came to witness this traditional joining of the bride’s family with the groom’s, and the day was filled with such joy and love. At one point as we were watching the people mingling, dancing, and laughing, the groom’s father (also my cousin—my mom’s first cousin) said to me, “This is beautiful. This is how it should be.”

The bride, a beautiful Nigerian woman in a cream-colored wedding dressed and orange necklace holding a bouquet of soft, wheat-colored grasses tied to look like a hand-held broom.

This is how it should be.

People of all nations and cultures, getting along. Filled with genuine love and acceptance for each other. Yes, even—gasp!—people of different religions. Jesus’ name was highly honored in both the ceremony and the hearts of the majority of people there, but there were also representatives of Islam in attendance since the groom himself converted several years ago. I’m sure, given the diversity, there were people of other religions or no religion at all in attendance as well. What I did not see or hear at any time during the weekend was a disrespectful gesture or word from one guest to another, or about another.

A group of women from several different cultures and a child dancing a traditional Nigerian dance.

What I saw, what I witnessed, was a diverse group of people treating each other, at the least, as neighbors—and more often as family.

We’ve been spending time thinking about Matthew 22:37-39, in which Jesus, speaking to a Pharisee, named the two greatest commandments. The second is to

Love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)

A red-headed, ten-year-old girl’s face is close-up in the left-hand corner. In the blurred background, across the aisle seated in chairs for a wedding are women in traditional Igbo dress, bright green and bright pink.

In the account of the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisee in Luke, the Pharisee wanted to qualify this. Actually, he wanted to justify himself—probably his past actions and present attitudes toward certain groups of people—so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, NIV). Rather than give a straight answer, Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan, who turned out to be the one person in the story who acted like a true neighbor to a man who had been beaten and left for dead—a man who may not have stopped for him, if the situation were reversed (Luke 10:30-37).

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The white groom in an Igbo hat and outfit. The outfit is made from non-traditional material—red with a Wisconsin Badgers logo repeated in a pattern. He is bending over hugging his aunt.

Do likewise. You be the one who acts like a neighbor. Whether it’s a friend or a stranger. Someone who looks like you or someone who doesn’t. Someone who thinks, believes, and acts like you or someone who doesn’t. Someone you’d normally consider your sworn enemy.

Look around you. See those people? Those are your neighbors. All of them.

Taken from the back of an outdoor tent, there is a group of women in Igbo dress dancing outside the tent. They are doing a dance to indicate their acceptance of the groom’s family for their daughter/cousin—this shows they will not take her away and nullify the wedding. In the foreground are spectators, other wedding guests witnessing the transaction.

And how are you to treat these people, these neighbors of yours? You are to love them like you love yourself. Like you love yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a tall order. Because I know myself, and know that my first natural reaction to most things in life is to protect myself, to care for myself, to guard my own interests, often to the detriment of others. But that’s not what Jesus wants. Loving myself? Yes, I am to love myself. But then extend that same love to everyone around me. The way I protect myself? I need to protect others that way. Care for myself? Care for others just as much. Guard my interests? Guard their interests too, if they are worth guarding.

Which brings us to today’s challenge.

The bride’s father, a Nigerian in traditional Igbo garb, walking in a meadow with the groom’s aunt, a white woman in a black and white dress.

Today’s Challenge. Your challenge today is to take yesterday’s list of the ways you love yourself and turn it into statements about how to love your neighbor. In the paragraph beginning “I don’t know about you” above, I did a bit of this. Your bigger challenge, though (one that doesn’t stop at sundown), is to try to practice this kind of love toward the people around you.

A red ceramic candle holder with star cut-outs sitting on a wooden wall shelf. Photo text: Challenge Day 26, neighborly love. #writinglifeaugustchallenge

This challenge, especially the second part, won’t be easy. You will fail. But that’s the beauty of God’s forgiveness through Jesus, and of the promise of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Jesus; God forgives when we fail and the Spirit helps us show love in ways we wouldn’t be able to on our own. That means that throughout this challenge, you’ll want to—need to—pray for God’s help. Help showing you what it means to love someone as you love yourself. Help living it out. And forgiveness for those times you are unable to do as he commands.

Today’s Participation. Tell or show us about one of your neighbors and one small way you are able to show them neighborly love—or want to begin to try to show that kind of love. Write about it in the comments or post about it on social media using #writinglifeaugustchallenge.