Editor’s Note: It’s Sit & Listen Saturday at Devotionals Daily. Enjoy reading as well as listening to this devotion from Bob Goff’s newest book: Everybody, Always: Becoming Love In A World Full Of Setbacks And Difficult People – which hit the #1 spot in Christian books on Amazon this month. People everywhere are talking about this book, because the message is simple: love everybody, always. What a timely message! More than ever, we need to love our neighbors like Jesus did. Listen to this devotion out loud on the blog (with Bob narrating!) or on your Alexa device by enabling the skill and then prompting, “Alexa, ask devotionals to read today’s devotion.”
Love Everybody, Always
“Love one another.” What is simple often isn’t easy; what is easy often doesn’t last.
It was a lawyer like me who tried to set up Jesus. This lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. I think he was looking for a plan, but Jesus told him about his purpose instead. He said it was to love God with all his heart and soul and mind. Then in the next breath, Jesus gave the lawyer some unsolicited but practical advice. Jesus told him he should love his neighbors just like he loved himself. Sometimes we see these as two separate ideas, but Jesus saw loving God and loving our neighbors as one inseparable mandate. They were tied for first in Jesus’ mind. I think Jesus said these things because He knew we couldn’t love God if we don’t love the people He surrounds us with.
Simply put, we can stop waiting for a plan and just go love everybody.
There’s no school to learn how to love your neighbor, just the house next door. No one expects us to love them flawlessly, but we can love them fearlessly, furiously, and unreasonably.
We’re not supposed to love only our neighbors, but Jesus thought we should start with them. I bet He knew if our love isn’t going to work for the people who live close to us, then it’s probably not going to work for the rest of the world. Jesus didn’t say who our neighbors are either. Probably so we wouldn’t start making lists of those we don’t need to love.
Each of us is surrounded every day by our neighbors. They’re ahead of us, behind us, on each side of us. They’re every place we go. They’re sacking groceries and attending city council meetings. They’re holding cardboard signs on street corners and raking leaves next door. They play high school football and deliver the mail. They’re heroes and hookers and pastors and pilots. They live on the streets and design our bridges. They go to seminaries and live in prisons. They govern us and they bother us. They’re everywhere we look. It’s one thing we all have in common: we’re all somebody’s neighbor, and they’re ours. This has been God’s simple yet brilliant master plan from the beginning. He made a whole world of neighbors. We call it earth, but God just calls it a really big neighborhood.
What often keeps us from loving our neighbors is fear of what will happen if we do. Frankly, what scares me more is thinking about what will happen if we don’t. Being fearless isn’t something we can decide to be in a moment, but fear can be overcome with time and the right help. We can bring all the game we’ve got, but only Jesus has the power to call out of us the kind of courage it takes to live the life He talked about.
For the last twenty-two years, we’ve put on a New Year’s Day parade to celebrate our neighbors. Our parade starts at the cul-de-sac at the end of our block and ends at our front yard. Our whole family wakes up early every year, and we blow up over a thousand helium balloons. We’re the reason there’s a helium shortage. Before we start taking the balloons out of the house, we give thanks for our neighbors and for the privilege of doing life with them.
Our block has only twenty houses if you count both sides, so our parade isn’t a long one. Our first year, there were only eight of us standing at the beginning of the parade route. We stood together at the end of the cul-de-sac, trying to look like a parade. Someone said, “Go,” and we started walking down the street and waving to the six neighbors who were watching. Now there are probably four or five hundred people who come each year. Kids pull wagons full of stuffed animals and pet goldfish. There are no fancy floats; bicycles with baseball cards in the spokes are the norm. By the time we all line up for the parade these days, we’re already at our house and sometimes a little past it before anyone starts moving.
Here’s why we do it: we can’t love people we don’t know. You can’t either.
Saying we love our neighbors is simple. But guess what? Doing it is too.
Just throw them a parade. We don’t think Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” is a metaphor for something else. We think it means we’re supposed to actually love our neighbors. Engage them. Delight in them. Throw a party for them. When joy is a habit, love is a reflex.
Because we’ve been putting on the parade for decades, we know all the people who live near us. I don’t know if they’ve learned anything from us, but we’ve learned a ton about loving each other from them. God didn’t give us neighbors to be our projects; He surrounded us with them to be our teachers.
We don’t have a plan for the parade. This cuts down on the preparation time. It’s just as well. Love doesn’t obey all the rules we try to give it anyway. A week before the parade each year, we knock on a few of our neighbors’ front doors and pick a grand marshal and a queen from among them. Being picked as the queen is a big deal in our neighborhood. Carol got the nod one year. A decade later, people still bowed to Carol when they saw her at the corner market or the gas station and called her “Your Majesty.” It was just beautiful.
One year, because of the battle raging inside Carol, she didn’t think she would be able to walk the parade route from the cul-de-sac to our house where the parade ends. I have an old Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a sidecar. That year, I put Carol in the sidecar and gave her a ride. She was the hit of the parade because all the neighbors knew about the cancer she had been staring down. Carol, elegant as always, waved to everyone, and they waved back. Just before we got to the end of the parade route, Carol turned to me and took a deep, thought-filled breath. It was as if she were going through the highlight reel of her life when she said, “You know, Bob, I’m really going to miss this parade.” I looked at my neighbor in the sidecar next to me and said, “Me too, Carol. Me too.” Even as I did, I asked God if He would let Carol have at least one more parade with us.
Seven months later, our family had just returned from a trip out of the country. I was with my son Richard when we got the news Carol had gone back into the hospital for another operation. We jumped in the car and hurried to be with her. We moved quickly down the hall and turned into Carol’s room just as the doctor was leaving. A somber stillness filled the room as we entered. Carol was propped up in her bed by pillows. Her head was leaned back toward the ceiling. Her eyes were closed, and her hands were folded. The doctor had just told Carol she was going to die. We sat on the bed together, had a good cry, and then we talked about balloons and parades and eternity and Jesus.
Carol came home to the house across the street from us to spend her last days among her friends and neighbors. She had no appetite as her body began shutting down. We were constantly trying to coax her into eating something. Every now and then she would get a bizarre craving for a specific type of food. One day she told me she was itching for a particular kind of hot dog. She went into remarkable detail with me about the width and length and the color of them.
This company must only make about four or five hot dogs a year, because I went to a dozen grocery stores and delis looking for Carol’s brand of hot dog with no luck. Eventually, I found a small package. I felt like I had found Jimmy Hoffa. “Yes!” I shouted out from aisle three at the grocery store as I grabbed the package and threw my arms up over my head. I almost spiked them like a football in the end zone but caught myself.
I raced back to Carol’s house and opened the package of hot dogs with a reverence reserved for the ark of the covenant. I told Carol I’d bagged the exact one she was craving. Carol told me she wanted to see the wrapper. Even in her weakened condition she wanted to make sure we hadn’t gone Oscar Mayer on her.
Carol couldn’t eat much more than a teaspoonful of food at any time. Sweet Maria mocked up the king of all hot dogs for her to look at and piled it high with the works. It had a whole mound of onions chopped on top and a pickle the size of a small dog. I put on my favorite baseball cap and got Carol’s, and we put the sample dog on a silver tray in front of her. I fed her finely chopped hot dog a quarter of a teaspoon at a time, and I told her to look at the sample and imagine she was downing it in huge bites while watching a Red Sox game. Our friends do things like this for us. They help us see the life Jesus talked about while giving it to us in smaller pieces — sometimes just a teaspoonful at a time.
Some people have bucket lists of things they’ve always wanted to do. I don’t have one; I want to do everything. If I had a bucket list, I could put only two or three things I don’t want to do in it — like getting bitten in the face by a snake. But honestly, I’m even on the bubble about that one. I asked Carol if she had a bucket list of things she’d always wanted to do but had never gotten around to. Carol thought about it and then said with a twinkle in her eye, “You know, I’ve never toilet-papered anyone’s house.”
Carol called me on the walkie-talkie at four o’clock in the afternoon a few days later. “Let’s go!” she almost shouted. I was going to explain to her how most toilet-papering usually happens under the cover of darkness, but then I thought about it for a second and shot back, “I’m on my way!” I got some fake rubber noses and glasses for us to put on, and we ran across the street like a couple of high school kids with rolls of toilet paper under our arms. Sweet Maria met us there and had a dozen more rolls with her. One of our favorite neighbors has some big trees in front of their home. Carol giggled as she threw rolls of toilet paper over the trees and pointed out places we’d missed. She had an arm too.
Just as we were finishing up a pretty epic job on our neighbor’s trees, the police came down the street in their cruiser. It was as if they had been cued by a movie director to show up just as Carol was getting ready to heave the last roll over the top branch. She had her arm cocked behind her head as they drove up. She glanced at them, then at the tree, then back at them. They turned on their lights and started getting out of the car — and she threw it anyway. We were still wearing our disguises, so maybe she figured we could make a run for it. The policemen asked us whether we knew it was a misdemeanor to toilet-paper someone’s house. I looked at them, put my arm around Carol, and said, “Officer, I’ve got diplomatic immunity, and she’s got cancer. Go ahead and arrest us.”
The officers looked at each other and grinned. They understood what was going on. They were compassionate and playful with Carol as we stood in the street talking about what prison life would be like for her. I told her she was going to love the food but hate the showers and suggested they handcuff her before they took her to the Big House just to make sure she didn’t commit any other high crimes that day. We waved as the policemen drove away.
When our kids were young and had trouble sleeping, I would take the tip of my finger and rub from between their eyebrows to the end of their noses. It worked every time, and in a few minutes they’d be out cold. Carol made it through autumn to Christmas, but just barely. I would go over to her house for visits and rub Carol’s nose with my finger to help her rest and escape the battle going on inside of her for a few moments. We’d pray together and talk about Jesus and our neighbors. One day, these same neighbors came to the back of her house and passed flowers they’d grown in their gardens through her window and covered Carol’s bed with them. Selfless love has the power to transform even the darkest places into meadows.
When Carol had the strength, she would meet friends in her living room. She’d point out the window with a weak finger to the trees across the street with remnants of toilet paper still waving from the top branches like the flags on a circus tent. She’d giggle and say, “I did that.” Throughout the winter, each day became more difficult for Carol to find energy. She slept uneasily and longer throughout the days and nights, which started to blend together for her.
On New Year’s Day, Carol was clinging to life by a few threads and was far too weak to get out of bed. She’d made it to the day of the parade she had once presided over as queen. This was an ambition I think had sustained her during the last months of her courageous battle. Just before the parade started, my sons Richard and Adam, along with Lindsey’s husband, Jon, went across the street and carried Carol from her bedroom to a chair they’d placed in front of her living room window facing the street.
Carol could hear the music and knew the parade was coming soon, but she couldn’t see past the corner of her window. What she didn’t know was that we had changed the parade route, and within a few minutes all five hundred people walked right through her front yard.
I sat next to Carol, holding her hand as hundreds of her friends and neighbors walked up to her window, pressed their noses against it, waved to her, and bounced balloons. As they did, through her tears, Carol lifted her weak hand slowly to her mouth and blew each one of them kisses goodbye. A few days later, Jesus lifted Carol up to heaven. It would be her second parade of the week.
I don’t know if the streets of Heaven are paved in gold, but I’m kind of hoping they’re lined with balloons. And at the end of the parade, I bet we’ll find Jesus blowing us kisses, rubbing our noses, and welcoming us to our next neighborhood. I just hope I get a house somewhere near Carol’s again.
Excerpted with permission from Everybody Always by Bob Goff, copyright Bob Goff.
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