How Our Neighborhood Impacts Us
“Does your neighborhood impact how you live and think?”
We live in a Washington, DC suburb. Life here is very fast paced. Folks are super busy. People rush from one event to another, one important meeting to a crucial private appointment. We are constantly told that we live in the most important city in the world. Decisions are made daily that can impact lives across the globe. It is stressful. As I’ve thought about this over the years I’ve come to believe that every neighborhood has its own “idols.” We may not realize it but we are impacted by the idols of our neighborhoods. The idol in DC is significance. Everyone wants to be significant, to be successful, to make a difference. Yes, to be the one who holds THE POWER. In fact “stress” in DC is a status symbol. If you are stressed, you must be important. There’s so much on your plate.
This idol of significance impacts our families. Moms feel they have to push their kids, to sign them up for one more worthwhile activity, to race to one more carpool, to begin to build their child’s resume at a young age. They desperately want their child to succeed. Often over- extended Moms feel they have to chair the next fund raiser or head up the local PTA. It’s easy to find ourselves as a family simply passing in the hallway as we rush to the next event. We long for a snow day when everything is canceled.
Raising our five kids in this pressure I too felt pulled to over-commitment and succeed. I was falling prey to the idol of where I live- significance. Many times I had to stop and ask, Why am I doing this? Who am I trying to please? In the long run what really matters-saying “no” to one more thing to have some down time as a family or committing to something else to make us feel significant, i.e. to keep up with our friends?
We once lived in a town where the idol was homes. The talk was about what renovation I’ll do next, or what piece of artwork I want for my house. There was a lot of comparison of homes. Another city has as its idol heritage. Who are you? Meaning what are your roots and what kind of people do you come from? It impacts the social circle you run in and how you are accepted in society. In yet another location the value is on body image. Healthy living, body shape, exercise classes, trendy work-out clothes are all consuming. Talk centers around personal trainers and how to fit exercise into an already busy lifestyle. In another location it’s education. The mom whose child scores the highest on SATS is considered most successful. Parents are pressured to find the right school, the best teacher. Many of the parents themselves have PHD’s. These are just a few of the idols I’ve noticed. The idol of your neighborhood could be sports or farm produce or any number of things.
Why even bring this up? Why does it matter?
It matters because it is very easy for us to get swept up into the idol of our neighbor without even realizing it. It is not that the idol is necessarily evil. It can be good to an extent. We certainly can’t avoid its influence. But we do need to take care that we don’t let our decisions on how we live become controlled by the idols of our neighborhood. These idols ultimately have little value. And they can distract us from raising kids with character. The danger is that this can happen without our even realizing it.
So what do we do?
Identify the idol (or idols) of your specific geographical location. What seems to be of highest value in your community? It helps to ask ourselves, what do I think about as I walk through my day? What do I feel pressured to do or to be? Is there a theme here? Ask others what they think your local idol might be.
Consider how your decisions and your life style are being controlled by your geographical idols. Where am I making decisions based on the pressures of those around me? Is there something I want to do differently?
Spend time with people who are not like you. If you are rich, find a friend who is poor. If you are skinny, find a friend who is overweight and content. If you are primarily focused on your own family, find a friend who is involved in caring for others. If you are highly educated, spend time with someone who never graduated from high school. Share these friendships with your kids. Have these folks into your home. Build friendships with those of other races and cultures. It’s easy to go to a local college and volunteer to have students from other cultures into your home. Take your kids and go as a family on a local mission trip to a neighborhood very different from your own. It’s crucial not only for our own lives but particularly for our kids. Often we don’t recognize how impacted we are by our own geographical idols until we get out of our everyday surroundings.
Romans 12: 2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In order not to conform, we need to continually rub up against those people who are different than we are.
Exposing our families to others who are very different from ourselves will give us a healthier and broader perspective on God’s kingdom. In the process this may help us recognize and turn from our own idols and live a more balanced life.