Last weekend the house next to us was given an extreme makeover. Our neighbor, who has three sons with varying disabilities, ranging from autism to dietary problems, was sent away for the weekend and returned to find her house completely renovated. The volunteers who gave of their time for this program did an incredible job. They replanted and resodded the gardens, laid new floors, repainted the entire house, themed the bedrooms and added some beautiful new furniture. We enjoyed watching them do their work and we were there when Barb and the family arrived home. It was a great deal of fun to see their faces, to see their joy, as they saw their new home (If you are interested in seeing some photos from last weekend, you can do so here.).
Because the house was a construction zone for three days, it was not a great weekend for those of us who live beside or around the place. We live in townhouses and my house shares a wall with Barb’s home. Sound travels readily through these walls and of all the neighbors, we had the worst of it. For much of the weekend there was sawing, banging, hammering and talking. Groups of people moved in and out from dawn until long after dusk. Television crews milled about to capture video of the work for the evening news. It was difficult, but the crew seemed to do the best they could to be as sensitive as possible to the neighbors. The only one time I felt compelled to go next door was when hammering at 11 PM kept Michaela from sleeping. I went next door and asked nicely if they would stop the hammering. They apologized and stopped immediately.
We had a great weekend despite the constant noise and commotion. We were thrilled for Barb that she would have the privilege of having her home renovated and were willing to put up with almost any amount of annoyance for her sake. Unfortunately, most of our neighbors were not. On Friday evening, one neighbor called the police to lodge a complaint about the noise, even though it was only 8 PM. The police arrived and, recognizing the work from an article in the local newspaper, said they were unwilling to do anything. They promptly left and, I trust, found more pressing concerns. On Saturday I saw some other neighbors yelling at one of the crew members who had parked in the wrong spot. On Sunday, our neighbors were gathered in small groups, gossiping and muttering to themselves, making “choking” gestures towards the workers. On the way to church we were apprehended by a particularly grumpy neighbor who told us we should lodge a complaint because Barb’s lawn had been laid with new grass and our adjoining lawn had not. Sunday afternoon a neighbor tried to draw Aileen into complaining about the house but Aileen would only say how great she thought the place looked. The neighbor scolded, “I just hope they now take good care of it both inside and out.” We learned from the crew that a rumor was going around the neighborhood that Barb intended to sell the house as soon as the work was done.
It was pathetic. We were shocked. We just couldn’t believe that our neighbors were unable to be happy on Barb’s behalf. Not a single one of them waited outside when Barb returned home. Not a single one offered her any congratulations.
But then I thought back to a sermon I had heard only a week before. My pastor had preached a sermon on Romans 12, on the marks of a true Christian. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” the Apostle writes. The pastor provided an analogy that went something like this: Imagine that you are at a ballgame with a friend. The Bluejays are winning, putting up run after run against the Yankees. With every home run, you and your friend jump up and rejoice together, high-fiving and cheering for the home team. You rejoice with those who rejoice. But then, between innings, a voice comes over the P.A. and announces that someone in the stadium is going to win a new house, a new car, a dream vacation. He announces the level, the section, the row. It is someone in your row! But when he reads the seat number you see that your friend is sitting in that seat. He has won. You have not. Now how easy is it to rejoice with those who rejoice? Suddenly you are overwhelmed with feelings of anger, jealously, discontentment. You pretend to be happy, but inside you mutter and complain. You hate your friend and want what he has been given.
Until that sermon I had never seriously considered just how difficult it is to rejoice with others. But last weekend I saw first-hand why Paul considers this one of the marks of a true Christian. I saw how those who are unsaved simply cannot rejoice with those who rejoice. Instead they react with jealousy and anger, seeking to tear down what has been built up. It was a shocking display of the depravity of human nature.
The neighbors have learned at least one lesson from this weekend. While each house has two parking spots, most of us have only one car. If you look outside today, you’ll see that several of the neighbors now park at a 45-degree angle so their single car spans two spots. That way they can be sure that no one parks in their coveted spaces. I guess this somehow makes them feel better. It just makes me laugh. There but for the grace of God…