“Won’t you be my neighbor?” These 5 words evoke so many memories… cardigan sweaters, comfy shoes, gentle music, quiet and calm routines, learning and sharing and feeling loved and seen. I am sure we can all return to that space where this calming show was a part of our day.
I remember the feelings Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gave to me. I looked forward to the slower pace and calmness and gentle smile and reassuring words. “Won’t you be my neighbor?” “Yes, Please!” Fred Rogers asked this of the world every day. He asked to share his life and to invite others to share their day with him. To be together.
He modeled what it looked like to be caring and calm and loving and interested… helping and also struggling. Reassuring us that we didn’t have to be anything other than our true selves: “I like you just the way you are”. Accepting but modeling how to work through those feelings that made us NOT calm, and NOT caring and angry and hurting.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that Fred Rogers was a minister, a Jesus follower and that children’s television was his ministry. Let me take a minute to let that sink in as I needed it to when I found out. His MINISTRY! (like written on his Ordination certificate!) He managed to find a way to minister to the world without using any traditional God language or Christianese. He was modeling God’s love and how to be a neighbor, in the same way Jesus answered the “and who is our neighbor?” question.
In that moment of adult understanding, everything clicked and changed for me. All that Mr. Rogers said and did became crystal clear and my eyes were wide open. He was modeling being a physical neighbor but more importantly he was showing us how to be a NEIGHBOR: how to love someone with God’s love; how to see them with God’s eyes and heart; how to give of ourselves and show mercy and grace; how to be loving with everyone we encounter.
Each day he walked into the studio and prayed, “Dear God, let some word that is heard be Yours.”
In our current era of social media we can get lost in the anonymity of the world, saying things without thinking, lashing out, not connecting, being apathetic. Mr. Rogers showed us before social media what it looked like to reach outside of his physical neighborhood and impact in a positive and loving way everyone who encountered him. Most of the people he connected with on TV were not his physical neighbors, yet we felt we knew him and spent time sharing life with him as though we were physically together. We felt seen and heard and loved even through the television screen.
Behind the scenes he did many more of the traditional Jesus Follower things. He prayed for people on a daily basis by name, he wrote thousands of letters, and he prayed with people and pastored. He did so many traditional Christian things, but to my eye, he planted so many seeds and let God and the Holy Spirit take it from there.
One of the things I notice now as an adult was how Mr. Rogers never made the show and his interactions with others about himself. It was always about the other person. Attention was always directed back. His love and care and joy was genuine and not given only to receive. His humbleness was apparent in every interaction.
He was a listener, an asker of questions. He took TIME, he paused and gave space for the other person to just be and for them to be together. In our busy, rushed world this is quite a takeaway of how it CAN be. We can learn so much from his example. He didn’t need to use the “God” words but God was certainly at the core of everything he was, in whatever he was doing. He was able to embody Love. He was a clear example of how to be God’s vessel. God’s love poured THROUGH him.
I strive to be this kind of neighbor. To see those put in my path through the eyes of God, and I pray that God uses my vessel in such a loving way that those I encounter see God’s love in me and have that change from oh! To ohhHHH! That lightbulb going off, the Ah-Ha! conversion.
Won’t you be MY neighbor?