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‘Love Thy Neighbor’ and the Habit of Friendship

Memories of a minister’s wife who put the practice of kindness and compassion into action on a daily basis.

Love thy neighbor
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“Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). One of the few commandments Jesus gave us. It shouldn’t be so hard, yet it is. The best thing to do is to simply make it a habit. But how?

First, look for someone who models that behavior. Then learn from them.

I practically stumbled on such a model. I was a 25-year-old actor/singer starring in a summer stock production of West Side Story, playing the coveted role of Tony. All the while thinking, “No, this isn’t what I want to do with my life.” But then, what?

Friendship in Action

The theater was in the beachside town of Santa Barbara, and there in a retirement home lived the widow of the minister who had baptized me, Mama Cropp. Almost against my will I called her up, and she invited me to lunch at the home. A free meal. Okay.

There at once I saw her in action, escorting me through the dining room, pausing at different tables, introducing me to her friends and telling them, “He’s going to be on stage this summer,” she said. “We’ll all have to go see him.”

It brought back childhood memories of her at church, circulating at coffee hour among the congregation. Grabbing hands warmly, hugging. If anyone was going through difficulties she would know, letting her husband know.

Compassion at Work

I figured it was just a role she was playing, the minister’s wife—to love thy neighbor. But now, as the two of us ate lunch, I saw that compassion at work, one-on-one. She listened to all I was saying. My bewilderment about what I wanted to do with my life. It just tumbled out. Her good care invited it.

“Caring is just a bad habit with her,” I joked with a mutual friend. Strike the “bad” from that sentence. We both knew it wasn’t bad.

Over a series of lunches and chats and beachside walks, I started asking her questions. Had she always been like this? Goodness, no. Not at all.

Who You’re Meant to Be

As our unlikely friendship grew that summer, I came to see that those good qualities were something she had worked at her entire life. By now—in her mid-70s—they just came naturally. With God’s help she had made herself into the person she wanted to be.

“Rick,” I told myself, “Now is the time to work at who you want to be. Who you’re meant to be.”

I would be insufferable if I said I succeeded. Truth to tell, I’m still working at it all these years later. But now when I hear of someone going through turmoil in their life or suffering a loss, I send that email, make that phone call, sit by that hospital bed, say that prayer. Love thy neighbor.

That I had the good fortune to turn myself into an editor/writer and come to Guideposts where that sort of caring was essential is something I also credit to Mama Cropp.

Love thy neighbor as thyself. What God wants of us is exactly what we want of ourselves.

Thanks for that, Mama Cropp.

Read More: Three Easy Ways to Make New Habits Stick

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