Many years ago, as a stay-at-home young mom of three, I moved into a new neighborhood. I was anxious to get to know my new street mates, but in one case, it didn’t come as easily as I had hoped. My new neighbor across the street would arrive home, pull into her garage and close the garage door before she ever got out of the car! It’s pretty difficult to become a friend through a closed door. And it’s definitely a challenge to try and be a good neighbor to someone who isn’t showing any interest.
As Moms, we all feel lonely at times, and no one wants to face rejection! But if we give up too easily, we could miss out on an opportunity not only to gain a friend, but also to be one. And those who resist friendship—or even hide behind closed doors—are often those who need our friendship most.
So whether that “neighbor” is in your literal neighborhood, your office, on your child’s sports team, or in your school community, people need good neighbors, even if they don’t know how to be one. Instead of letting closed doors keep you at bay, what if you took the initiative to make a connection?
When in doubt, food is the answer.
One way to begin forging the ties of friendship is to share treasures from your kitchen. In my estimation, food is the universal language of relationship. I have never found a person who refused an offering of food. (Although that closed-door neighbor across the street came close.) And in a world filled with fast food, take out and pre-made everything, most people will welcome something homemade.
Try sharing cookies, dessert, a holiday treat, or even your favorite go-to dinner with a “frosty” neighbor and start to build a bridge of relationship. Yes, I’m talking about that co-worker that shuts you out of office conversation or makes you feel “less than” every time you come around. Or even that mom in playgroup who never seems to make eye contact with you.
Maybe their standoffishness is actually insecurity. Instead of assuming the worst of them, let your kindness shine in the form of food! Make extra of what you’re having for dinner or dessert and bring it to work for them. Or offer to bring that chilly play group mom a meal the next time you meet, and watch their demeanor and attitude start to change.
Risk pays off.
Word to the wise: loving difficult “neighbors” is not for the faint at heart. But I believe those that push us away, for whatever reason, need our love and grace even more.
I’ll never forget the day I stood in the middle of the street next to my closed-garage-door neighbor’s car, offering her chicken noodle soup for the first time. Her car window was barely open, like she was afraid I’d climb in her car if she opened it further.
I kindly said, “I’m making soup and I have extra I’d like to share with your family for dinner tonight.”
Her silence was deafening. And having stopped her midstream as she backed out of her garage, (it was my only chance!) there I stood. And there she sat. For what seemed like hours. It was likely 10-20 seconds, but it felt like eternity as I waited for a response.
Finally, she stammered through the sliver of window space, “Well I guess that will be fine. I’ll send my husband over to get it after he gets home from work.” I breathed a sigh of relief. And she drove off.
Later that evening her husband showed up to collect the dinner with little fanfare. But the real fireworks went off the next day, when my closed-door neighbor showed up at my door. She expressed her gratitude for the dinner, returned my dishes, and left almost as quickly as she’d come.
After she’d gone, I found tucked inside my casserole dish one of the most beautiful, heartfelt thank you notes I have ever received. From the flowery penmanship to the eloquent words of thanks, I couldn’t believe this was the same person who’d closed the garage door on me for so long.
That wasn’t the last time I shared soup from my kitchen with that closed-garage-door neighbor. And over the years I lived there, we shared other meals at each other’s tables, and many other precious moments as well.
I would never have had the blessing of that friendship if I hadn’t taken a risk—or in my case, stepped out to the middle of the street—and tried to become a real neighbor to her.
Sometimes, it takes being a friend first to gain a friend in the end.
When we get creative and a little bit brave, closed doors are nothing more than an opportunity. We just have to be willing to open them.
Sarah Beckman is an author and speaker, living in Albuquerque, NM with her husband, Craig, of 25 years. They have three delightful children ages 16, 19, and 21. Her first book, Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial, is filled with practical ways to walk with people you care about through the rough patches of life. When she’s not traveling to speak or writing, you might find her in the kitchen creating something to share with a “neighbor” in need. She has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also works as a communications coach and corporate trainer. Visit her website. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.