Serving the Neighbor: Simple yet Profound

Here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life we are constantly preaching about serving the neighbor. But what does that mean? It means many things. But it also means serving someone when you least expect it.

Here’s an example that recently went viral: Photo of a Shoe Salesman Helping a Boy With Autism Is Going Viral For All the Right Reasons.

Here’s the story that goes with the photo, as told by the boy’s parents:

River Salter getting shoes

River Salter getting shoes

Last week we brought our 6-year-old son, River, to the Clarks Village outlet store in Street to be measured for school shoes. Being autistic, he really struggles with crowds, long queues and noisy places. The store was heaving! I knew there was no way he would cope with that environment so I explained the situation to a member of staff. Without hesitation, Aaran led us away from the noise and crowds to a staff room and placed a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. He was very patient with River, who was anxious, and went and got lots of different shoes for him to try on. We left with a great pair of shoes, a very happy boy—and Aaran also gave us the store number and said they’d happily book us an appointment before the store opens so that it’s quiet. Autism acceptance at its best! Thank you Clarks in Street, and a massive thanks to the shop assistant Aaran Daniels.

Mr. Daniels probably didn’t go to work that day thinking he would make a difference in the life of an autistic boy and his parents. But when the situation presented itself, he acted with thoughtfulness and with heart. And that did make a difference.

It was a simple act; yet it made a profound difference to the people he helped.

Serving the neighbor is an everyday thing

When we hear that we are supposed to love and serve our neighbor, it might sound like we have to do great deeds of self-sacrifice and heroism. And sometimes we do.

But usually it’s much simpler than that.

Usually it just means doing our everyday job and our everyday tasks with thoughtfulness and heart. Most often, serving the neighbor happens in the course of our ordinary life at work, at home, or around the neighborhood.

Yes, some people do great deeds of self-sacrifice and heroism as part of their job. But most of us live much more ordinary lives. We work at an office or retail store or fast food restaurant. We take care of the house and yard. We go to parent meetings or baseball games or neighborhood block parties.

Thankfully, for most of us on most days, there is no great disaster requiring courage and heroism.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities to love and serve our neighbor.

Most of our life is a series of small, simple acts. We serve a customer. We lend a hand to the person who lives next door. We wave and smile at someone passing by. And sometimes, like that shoe salesman, we have an opportunity to do something extra special for someone.

The greatness of small, everyday thoughtfulness

It may not seem like much.

But these are the threads of gold from which human life and human community are woven.

We don’t always know what the people we’re helping are going through. We don’t always know the struggles they’ve had that day—or the struggles they face every day. We may not realize that our small act of thoughtfulness and heart gave them a lift that helped them through their day.

In the course of your daily life when you might be super busy or stressed, an opportunity might present itself to serve a neighbor. Seize the day when those opportunities arise!

It may seem simple, and even insignificant.

But add up all these threads of gold woven through our lives, and through the lives of the people we see each day, and the effects are profound.

Day by day and moment by moment we are weaving the beautiful fabric of human kindness, human community, and human life.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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6 comments on “Serving the Neighbor: Simple yet Profound
  1. Alex says:

    Thanks for the article, Lee. I like reading these kind of stories, it is inspiring and gives me plenty of hope for humanity as a whole 🙂

    Serving my neighbour is something I try to push myself to do every day, because I have come regard it as part of my daily duties and it gives me plenty of joy. However, this directly conflicts with another primary drive of mine, namely the love of being alone. There is little that is more wonderful than to walk through a forest on my own or hike in the mountains with the cold wind in my face. It is like nature and freedom is constantly calling me. But acting on it means that I will not be able to serve my neightbour and fulfill God’s commandment. I am not sure how to approach this dilemma.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Alex,

      You’re welcome. Glad to bring a little brightness to your day!

      About your dilemma, the nice thing is that we have a whole succession of days, weeks, months, and years. We don’t have to do the same thing all day every day. The Sabbath is all about setting aside time from the daily rounds to get in touch with God, yes, but also to replenish the soul. Don’t quit your day job. But do take time off to lose yourself in the mountains and get in touch with yourself, nature, God, or whatever you experience out there.

      And dream of the day when your day job involves hiking in the mountains with the cold wind in your face . . . . 🙂

      • Alex says:

        Thank you for the reply!

        I think that I understand now. So Sabbath is not just the time set aside to reflect on God but also our ‘me time’ to recover from our duties, set our beliefs straight and reflect on what we have done and how it could be better.

        This actually makes sense. Recovery is an important factor of the human body and it seems like the soul also needs its recovery period. God is aware of this so he actually commands us to slow down every once in a while and reflect on ourserves and God and to recover so we can resume our life with renewed strength. Does that sound about right?

  2. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    We talk a lot on this blog about some of the more obvious and clear-cut examples of hellish and heavenly living- a love of self versus a love of other, as expressed in acts of gluttonous greed and charitable love, respectively. But I’m curious as to the less obvious and more insidious varieties of self-love that correspond to hellishness.

    If you take a stroll around your average big city and listen in on to some of the conversations, you hear a lot of familiar dialogue: people talking at length about their jobs and industries, favorite restaurants, their most recent Netflix binge, social media, local recreation, living active and healthy lifestyles, romantic relationships, etc. All of this is of course all well and good, and all have their God-given place in our lives, but you get a sense from a lot of these conversations that there isn’t much ‘outward conscientiousness’ to these lives, and in fact often borders on privileged self-indulgence. Ask a lot of these people as to why we’re here and the purpose of our existence, and you might hear an answer to the effect of ‘to make the most out of life,’ which I don’t disagree with, but often their idea of a fulfilling life is to fulfill their goals and dreams- which most of the time amounts to living inwardly, for yourself.

    Now, I certainly contrast this with people who’s goal is to not only fulfill their dreams, but are willing to do so at the expense of other people, which falls more squarely on the hellish side of death’s divide. I also feel like the type of person I generically described above, despite seemingly being too inwardly focused, ultimately responds to the ‘challenge of the other,’ and takes up the call to live and love charitably when life tests them to do so. It’s for that reason that I’m less inclined to say that the dominant love here is love of self.

    What do you think? Are many of us otherwise ‘good’ people- with our Yoga and our ‘good food, good fun, good friends’ lifestyles- just obliviously living for ourselves?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      Good question.

      It helps to know that there are three heavens, one above the other. (Paul speaks of someone being caught up to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2.) Swedenborg describes these three heavens in Heaven and Hell #29–40. In particular, he says in Heaven and Hell #33:

      People who live good moral lives, though, and believe in the Divine with no particular interest in learning, are in the outmost or first heaven.

      This, I think, fairly well describes your average ordinary person on the street. They generally live reasonably good and moral lives, and have some sort of belief in God or in a higher power or in some ideal higher than themselves. But they have no particular interest in delving deeply into learning about spiritual matters and practicing spirituality. They go to their job each day and do their work. Then they come home and relax, and party or go fishing on the weekend. For the most part, they’re good, decent people. But their focus is mostly on the ordinary things of this world: work, play, food, recreation, sex, clothing, and so on.

      These are the people who populate the lowest heaven, which Swedenborg calls the “natural” heaven—or more precisely the “spiritual-natural” and “heavenly-natural” heaven, because the people who live there are good and thoughtful people. Many of them would give you the shirt off their back if they saw that you were struggling and needed help. Then when they’d gotten you out of your jam, they’d go back to their backyard barbecue. And if anyone tried to make a hero out of them, they’d just say, “That’s what anyone would do,” or, “I was just doing my job.”

      Of course, as you say, some are bad apples who get their pleasure at the expense of others. And those people will end out in the corresponding mildest and least bad level of hell, where your basic jerks and habitual petty criminals end out.

      But the bulk of ordinary Joes and Janes who get up in the morning, go to work, put in their hours and do a decent job, treat their co-workers and customers decently, and then go home and enjoy life with their families and friends will spend eternity in the spiritual-natural / heavenly-natural heaven because they lived a good and decent life, if not a highly spiritual one, did their duty because it was the right thing to do, and generally treated their fellow human beings with thoughtfulness and decency.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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