How to Become Friends with Your Neighbors

a group of people eating at a table together in the backyard of a home; a lesson in how to become friends with your neighbors

It’s one thing to dream of neighbors gathering around your table when you have ample, decorated space, freshly cleaned bathrooms, and kids who keep their toys in their rooms and their crumbs on their plates. It’s a different kind of story when you’re renting a humble home with upside-down outlets. Unforgiving, flat-painted walls. Nicked linoleum. Then the dream gets turned round and round in your heart as you ask, “Why?” and “When?” and “How?”

But the best dreams don’t wait for us to be ready. They meet us in boring, over-tired, spilled cheerios, right-now moments. When we feel most inadequate. When we most need hope.

That’s where our family’s dream started. It’s also where it began to collect dust.

If I could talk to my five-years younger self, I would knock on her door until she learned that unexpected knocks are still to be answered. I’d pop over unannounced so she wouldn’t have time to clean first. I’d want her to discover how fast relationships go deep in actual lived-in space. How hospitality is a heart posture first. How we don’t begin ready; we become ready as we go.

She didn’t know yet how much she was missing by sowing only into friendships that required wrestling kids into car seats and fighting traffic across town. There’s a lot of space to curate authenticity when your friendships aren’t up close. Like next-door, bump-into-you-in-the-hood-and-the-grocery-store-and-dance-studio close. If you’re wondering whether that’s possible—namely, how to become friends with your neighbors—keep reading. 

Why You Should Invite People Over

a large group of women laughing around a table during a heartfelt dinner partyAcross-town friendships allow you to let people in, but only so far as it still feels safe. Show up pulled together and leave before you fall apart. Join every playdate but avoid hosting. Compartmentalize. Self-protect.

Amanda Anderson shares in All My Friends Have Issues that she doesn’t “believe you ever fully know someone until you’ve been in their house (or apartment, or yurt, or wherever). And for this reason, many people don’t invite others to their homes” (p. 23). And she put her finger right on my biggest reason for not inviting many people over: fear.

Fear that my awkwardness will be obvious.

Fear that I’m too boring.

Fear that my words will come out wrong, or at the wrong time.

Fear that they’ll politely dismiss the invitation.

Fear that where I live will flavor their opinion of me.

Fear that they won’t want to come back.

How To Overcome Fear

But the way to overcome fear is to choose who gets the final say. The voice of insecurity or the truth of a God who knows every self-critical thought and doesn’t write me off. The God who whispers promises that make me feel wholly seen and cherished. Who gives me open access to Himself because the best things are taught by living example.

This I began learning when we moved to a bigger house that had an even longer list of things to be embarrassed about it. Like years of neglect etched in leftover trash, forgotten dog piles, spare grass, overgrown landscaping, ruined carpet. And a whole lot of empty, because furniture from a small house doesn’t fill up a bigger house.

I’m somewhat of an introvert, and what helped me feel less intimidated was to think direction over pace. We couldn’t unlearn old habits overnight or learn every neighbor’s name the first month. But I could start small. Be me, but a more available version of me. Trust that God would guide and fill my lack.

Getting to Know the People Next Doorgreat reads on friendship

Early on, we started spending a lot of time in our front yard. Waving at cars. Making eye contact with dog-walkers, bike-riders, and flower-tenders. Walking our neighborhood. Keeping it uncomplicated and simply paying attention to the right-in-front-of-us people.

Smiles and waves turned into small talk, and small talk turned into longer conversations—at the edge of a flower bed, in a garage-turned-wood-working-shop, while marveling over homemade soap lined in rubber-maid bins. We learned names. Hobbies. Habits. Extended invitations: tea parties, birthday parties, stop-over-anytimes.

Before long, our neighbors became our go-to people. The ones we’d ask first when we had to lift something heavy, ran out of chili powder in the middle of making dinner, wanted lawn care advice, or needed help with the kids. In the same vein, we invited neighbor friends to lean on us when they had a need.

We found that many in our neighborhood were already better at this than we were. They’d been building a community for years, even decades, before we arrived. Like it’s normal for neighbors to be friends.

Maybe it should be normal. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Even with neighbors who already knew each well, we still had to forge our own family rhythms and relationships. Keep our door “easy on its hinges,” as Shannon Martin says in Start with Hello (p. 211). Answer knocks on the door when it was noon and we looked like we’d just woken up. Welcome neighbors inside when dirty dishes overflowed onto the counter and the floor was a hot mess. (We don’t have a dog to eat the crumbs. Did I mention that?)

How to Become Friends with Your Neighbors

Showing up is gritty. It looks like intentional availability. Built-in and protected white space. Sharing your honest self and telling your God’s-not-finished-with-me story while you’re still in the middle of the story. Fostering friendships and dismantling walls. Reaching through the rain to sit with someone in their pain.

It’s messy. And also the best.

Because we’re not meant to live alone. We need people, you and I both. And I’ve discovered that the proximity of neighbors can lead to the deepest, truest friendships. The kind that listen to and read Jennie Allen, then gather in each other’s homes to discuss. Gather weekly in your unfinished, and definitely undecorated living room, for a small group study while kids play loud in the basement. Let you cry over fresh fruit and mini muffins when your daughter quits on her dance team and you can’t fix it. Invite you to walk into their home unannounced.

We’re starving for real. For permission to be real. For others brave enough to stop curating and comparing when we’re around. And because neighbors already live in close proximity—and therefore spend more time near each other than with their other friends—you can literally do life together. Share burdens and prayer requests, celebrations and sorrows. Unmasked. Just as you.

Beginning is as simple as keeping your chin up and your eyes open. Making eye contact. Being more visible (because it’s really hard to get to know you if you’re rarely outside). Looking for little ways to connect and make someone else feel seen.

Snowballs and Being Imperfectly Ready

Aside from the rear-view angle, God only shows us the slice of life we’re currently living. You know the tug on your heart to connect and root deep. You also know your long list of doubts, insecurities, trust issues, and fears. It’s a tension I call imperfectly ready. Maybe you’re there, and it feels wobbly, standing on your little slice of right-now, dreaming of tomorrow, worrying that nothing will ever change anyway.

But let’s talk about this tension because there’s more to it than discontentment or angst. There are rumblings of something coming. And God pressing that spot on our hearts, asking if we’ll trust Him.

My story is that I waited until we moved to begin getting to know my neighbors, opening up to them and letting the things God does inside me spill out. As I look backward, I see grace in years that prepared my heart to open up and let people in. To my life. My home. My faith and parenting and more recently, my writing, journeys.

Sometimes seeds take a long time to sprout. But then, decades later the once painfully shy girl opens her door wide open to neighbors. The English major who practically stopped reading books or writing for 10 years post grad school suddenly gets a God-nudge to pick up her pen.

I started both neighboring and writing about missional neighboring imperfectly ready. Feeling small and vulnerable while learning to trust that there was anything of value God + me could contribute. It wasn’t that I doubted God. I doubted me.

But it was time to start saying yes, and I knew it. Yes to kids in and out of our house and yard all day. Yes to asking a few neighbors if they wanted to check out the missional community (that met at our co-leaders’ house at the time). Yes to eventually hosting our missional community gathering at our house. A curious yes to listening to podcasts when I couldn’t quite make sense of what a podcast even was.

It was the small yes to turn on a podcast—first Sally Clarkson’s and then MacKenzie Koppa’s—that awakened something dormant in me. I sensed God was preparing me to write again, but assumed it would be a long way down the road. It wasn’t. Two weeks later, that undeniable God-nudge. It’s time. But what do I write about?! That thing you’re doing in your neighborhood.                                                                                                         

That’s literally how our conversation went. And then I proceeded to tell God all the but-what-about-this’s I could think of. I don’t even know what I’m doing. Others far more equipped in discipleship and missional living already write about it. What could I possibly add? And who in the world do I think I am?!

I kept the phrase imperfectly ready in my tagline when I bought a web domain. The Uncommon Normal: Neighborhood Missional Living for the Imperfectly Ready. I wrote to people like me who didn’t think they were the sort of people to become deeply invested in their neighbors’ lives. Who were intimated by terms like evangelism and discipleship and mission even if they’d known Christ a long time. Who determined they’d missed or messed up too much of life to be any good to anyone else now.

I wrote to uncomplicate missional neighboring (because it’s simple, like a ripple effect, where we let God get real close and change us, and we let others in close enough to witness the in-progress work God’s doing inside us). I wrote to spark hope and offer a gentle path that looks like baby steps.

Because baby steps snowball. They seem inconsequential, but they’re the stuff habits are made of. And habits that set you in the right direction change your life.

(Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Grit and Grace will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain our own.)

Part of reaching out to stranger and making friends is having the confidence to do so—and oftentimes, that confidence is derived from our sense of self-worth. Listen to this podcast episode for tips on how to recognize your value: Do You Ever Feel Like You’re Not Enough? with Jodi Shultz 172

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