Guest post by Deb Potts
We’ve been married for 40 years, and we have lived in eleven homes. Most of our neighbors were nice, but one family stands out as being especially nasty. There were police strobe lights in our bedroom windows at night, ear-splitting rock music waking our sleeping baby, and rude, intimidating teens gathering by the dozens. But the worst insult from our nasty neighbors was their dog who thought our front lawn was his personal latrine, baring his teeth whenever we dared step on it! This happened years before I discovered how to make peace with prickly people, and I shudder to remember how poorly I handled the Dog Situation.
My perspective has changed about nasty neighbors since those early days as a young wife and mom. I am now a marriage mentor, and recognize that kind of chaos only comes from deep wounds and pain. The husband and wife ended up divorced, and the home situation went from bad to worse. I was so preoccupied with my own discomfort I never stopped to consider how much that other woman needed a friend.
My attitude about prickly neighbors has changed completely. When I encounter a potential prickly neighborhood situation, I just start asking questions. Here are 3 surprising ways to make peace with any prickly neighbor.
Ask for a Favor
If I am new to a neighborhood I will usually ask a neighbor for a small favor. Would they mind picking up my mail for a weekend, or watching for a package to be delivered on my porch? Most people will not ask for help from a stranger, they feel that they would be imposing. But if I ask first – just for a simple thing like picking up one day’s mail – most people will be glad to oblige. Then a relationship gets started. They are much more likely to ask me the next time they need a favor. If I am the first one to ask, that encourages them to reciprocate.
Ask them for Coffee
When prickly situations arise, I always find it best to sit down face to face and discuss the situation. I usually ask the person for coffee. Most people are surprised that I would ask, because most of us don’t sit down with one another and calmly and lovingly discuss our disagreements. Most of us just talk about it to other people, or post thinly disguised messages on Facebook, or fume silently.
The political climate in the past months is a case in point. One neighbor made a comment about something I posted on Facebook, and I realized she was very upset with me. So I asked her for coffee. Later she told me she almost didn’t come. It’s not always easy to face someone when there is a misunderstanding, and to be truthful, I was hoping she would turn me down. The argumentative atmosphere wasn’t something I relished getting into, and it was obvious that we were on opposite sides of the spectrum. But this neighbor was always a favorite of mine, a sweet, smart, caring woman. I couldn’t let politics ruin that.
At first we were both tense, emotions ran high with anger and tears from my neighbor. But I had prayed diligently before our meeting and God gave me a sense of peace and calmness. I didn’t try to justify my views or myself, as my Lord Jesus is the one who defines me. I just committed to hearing her heart. She cares deeply about the issues and invests a lot to learn about them. I suggested ways to turn her frustration and pent up fears into positive actions that could make a difference. I expressed concern for her as she hadn’t slept well and was not speaking to some family members since the election.
We parted with a hug and a smile. We are still on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but I hope that our renewed respect for each other will withstand future storms.
Ask How to Get Involved
There was a couple in one neighborhood who was universally disliked by most of the people on our street. This couple seemed pretty prickly and perfectionistic about their yard, they didn’t like children, and they didn’t seem to be friendly at all. I knew them only superficially until they put their house up for sale. I noticed the sign in the lawn and went over to talk to them. I discovered that their aging issues and stresses were becoming insurmountable. They were heartbroken to have to sell their beautiful home and move.
I discovered a lovely, sweet couple who were so preoccupied with their own struggles they probably had no idea of the negative impression they were making in the neighborhood. I offered to pray for them, and was warmly thanked. I came away from that episode wishing I hadn’t waited so long to reach out to them.
If you have a prickly neighbor, start by asking questions. You just might be pleasantly surprised at the answers you get. Inside every prickly neighbor is probably someone who is hurting in one way or the other.