Jeremiah goes on (verse 6), “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease” (Jeremiah 29:6). The second shift happens within us as we shift from tourist to neighbor.
In order to be good news to those around us we have to leave our tourist mentality behind. Tourists are consumers. Tourists come and they go. They live in places that aren’t theirs while they’re in town. They are here for a short time to see the sites, experience the culture, and eat the local food. Tourists only consume what a place has to offer and are oblivious to the realities of the city they visit.
But neighbors see the value of staying. Neighbors move beyond comfort and are determined to live where God puts them even if it means making significant sacrifices. You become known for loving your place and you work and pray for its welfare.
I moved here 3 years ago and I remember what it was like being the new guy on staff and the experiencing the newness of my surroundings. But eventually the newness wore off and then the pessimism began to set in.
Tourist --> Pessimist
The honeymoon is over, and reality has sunk in and you realize you will have to fight to stay engaged and you may even have to really bust your rear end to make a living. In this stage you think about leaving. You tell yourself, “This is harder than I thought it would be. It will be easier someplace else.”
I’ve told this story several times in different contexts but it’s worth telling one more time, but a couple months ago I officiated a wedding and while I was mingling and talking with guests at the reception, one woman surprised me when she flat out asked: So why do you live here?
She explained she moved here this summer from Denver to be closer to her daughter and granddaughter, but it was hard for her to envision staying here. Even though she only moved one state to the east, it felt like a whole new world to her.
I could relate to her struggle. There was a season after we moved to Topeka where I really wondered how I ended up here. I mean we were several hundred miles away from our extended family, so we’re completely dependent on the friendships we have for any sort of meaningful relationships. I hated the fact that we lived outside city limits and there weren’t any sidewalks in our neighborhood. I wasn’t even sure I liked the house we are living in. There were some things I liked about the house, but I tell you, our place has some issues, and rather than tackle the “honey-do” list, all I really wanted to do was move to a better house in a better part of the neighborhood. You know, just move. Then, I thought, my problems would be solved.
So I’m talking to this woman at the wedding and I responded by saying Jaclyn and I moved here (on purpose) because more than 70% of the people who live and work in the greater Topeka area have no connection to Jesus or His church. I said we moved here because we love the people in this city and we want to see that percentage decrease. I often hear stories of people’s struggles to fully embrace the place where God puts them like the woman I talked to at the reception a few months ago.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago our small group gathered in our home and we watched a message from a Seattle-based pastor - a guy named Eugene Cho - and if you were to ask me what the point of his message was, I couldn’t tell you. But I do remember very clearly the last thing he said. Eugene said, “If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, perhaps it’s time for you to water the grass you’re standing on.” If the grass looks greener on the other side of the city…if the grass looks greener on the other side of the job…if the grass looks greener in another church…or looks greener in another family, perhaps it’s time to water the grass you’re currently standing on.
Tourist --> Pessimist --> Neighbor
But those who work/pray through the pessimism and you commit to staying in the place where God puts you, you will find yourself at the doorstep of being a neighbor. When the restlessness of pessimism subsides, comfort settles in. You begin to embrace the people and place as your own.
Man I hope this is true for you. It’s true for me. I need my friends and neighbors. My family is far away. Neighbors are trustworthy and build up others around them. They are people you actually want to spend time with and they want to be with you. Neighbors settle in and take genuine interest in the community, church, and work place precisely because they’re watering the grass they’re standing on AND they’re watering the grass you’re standing on. It’s no longer about what your ‘hood or your company or the city has to offer you, but what you offer in return. When you consider where you’re at on the tourist/neighbor spectrum think about these questions: Are your neighbors/co-workers/classmates’ lives better because you’re around? Would anyone in your neighborhood care if you moved? How would you know your co-workers would miss you if you left the company?