Won't You Be My {Honest} Neighbor?

{Fred Rogers knew that being a good neighbor meant loving others just the way they are. But he also knew that being a good neighbor meant presenting ourselves just the way we are. Happy Birthday, Mister Rogers. Your legacy of neighborly love lives on. Even on the days I'd rather pretend I'm not Haggard Mom Barbie. Photo: Huffington Post}

{Fred Rogers knew that being a good neighbor meant loving others just the way they are. But he also knew that being a good neighbor meant presenting ourselves just the way we are. Happy Birthday, Mister Rogers. Your legacy of neighborly love lives on. Even on the days I'd rather pretend I'm not Haggard Mom Barbie.

Photo: Huffington Post}

“You are very early,” were the words that fell out of my mouth.

They had knocked on our door exactly twenty-two minutes earlier than I expected. Even though I tend to overestimate what I can accomplish before company arrives, I thought twenty-two minutes was plenty of time to tidy the aftereffects of Hurricane Offspring that had overrun every square inch of our apartment.

My three year old was busy smashing pink and blue play dough into a big blob of purple at the kitchen table. The vacuum was resting in the middle of the living room with its cord unwrapped and its job only half done. The floor was littered with the snacks, sippy cups, and shoes we needed later that day. And my ten month old was sitting on the floor whilst reaching out his pudgy arms, sobbing for my attention.

“Uh…we can come back later?” They offered politely.

For a split second I considered asking them to leave for twenty-two minutes. I pictured a do-over where I opened the door less like Haggard Mom Barbie and more like Mrs. Cleaver.

But then I thought, What’s the point of pretending we have it all together when these two gentlemen can clearly see otherwise?

If there is one thing I have learned from living in apartments for six years, it is that there is no point in pretending.

Sharing a roof, a wall, and a hallway strips away the necessary privacy to pretend.

I can't pretend that my three year old never throws tantrums.

Or that my baby always sleeps through the night.

Or that I never yell at my kids.

And thanks to the highly sensitive smoke detectors in our building, I can’t pretend I never burn the pizza.

“One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self,” the beloved Fred Rogers once said.

Beyond his fantastic sweaters and shoe-tossing skills, the guy knew a thing or two about being neighborly. He used to say it through the TV screen to me when I was growing up, and now his descendent “Daniel Tiger” sings it to my daughter: I like you just the way you are.

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now,” Fred preached without ever being preachy.

Being neighborly means not only loving someone just the way they are, but also presenting ourselves just the way we are.

And this type of authenticity goes much deeper than how tidy we keep our homes or how often we burn the pizza. It’s beyond how many times per week I choose to wear yoga pants instead of pants with a zipper, or how often I forgo mascara.

Biblical, neighborly authenticity means "...to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." {Ephesians 4:22-24, ESV}

It means being willing to vulnerably expose the messiness in our hearts to the everyday people in our lives, opening up about the ways we aren't so perfect at friendships or marriage or parenting or neighborly living. And it also means sharing how Christ's grace continually redeems us in those messes, continually makes us new.

And the beautiful thing is that presenting our honest selves in this way gives others permission to do the same.

One of the men standing outside my door offered again, “We can come back in a half hour if you want.”

I shook my head, trying to literally shake off my Monday morning funk. “No, please come in. I’m sorry, I’m not having a great day.”

"It's okay. I don't think many of us are."

It felt good to say and to hear that as I picked up my baby and cleared a path between sippy cups and veggie straws for our company to walk through. That was my honest self that day: haggard and a little flustered, but willing to welcome in whoever knocked on our door too. 

Mister Rogers would have been eighty-nine today.

While part of me feels a whole load of nostalgia for his catchy songs and somewhat-creepy puppets, the other part of me feels a huge crush on his legacy of strong, neighborly love. Mister Rogers didn't only ask over and over, "Won't you be my neighbor?" He taught millions the radical love of welcoming people in as their honest, messy selves. 

"It’s a mistake to think that we have to be lovely to be loved by human beings or by God," As Fred would say. {And did say, on behalf of us and our neighbors.}

Oh, and I think I forgot to mention...

My "company" that day was our apartment's building manager and a bed bug exterminator. 

Cute.

And honestly, a little messy too.

 

Grace and Peace,

Kendra

 

P.S. What are you can give your "neighbor" your honest self? What are ways you try to hide your honest self from others?