On a Friday afternoon in summer, chances are good you’ll find me with a few friends outside an ice cream stand, soaking in the pleasures of summer. Probably I’ll be licking a cone—something with chocolate and peanut butter if I’m lucky. The conversation will be easy: trips we’re planning or returning from; books we’re reading; light chatter about work, family and church.
I initiated this ritual to build community. The idea started when I heard of a friend who gathers weekly with her family—whoever can make it—at a pub for cheap drinks and wings. I dearly wish that I could partake in my own extended family dinners that happen one Sunday each month. I hear about them from my mother during our weekly phone calls. She and I review who was present, how the kids are growing, what food was enjoyed, and tidbits of family news. Happy as I am to know of the support my family offers each other, I am saddened not to be there myself, as half a continent separates me from them. My mom, perhaps sensing my sadness, often adds in her affectionate, warm voice, “We missed you.” A grace note.
A line from a long-ago song plays in my head: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Dubious counsel from 1960s rock troubadour Stephen Stills if it’s used to justify the forsaking of vows of fidelity and commitment. But if one is unable to participate in family gatherings, the advice could be beneficial. Some of us may be physically far from our families. Others come from families that are too few in numbers to offer support. And some of us come from fractured families; estrangement, ruptures, even abuse, make it impossible to gather for such steady companionship and affection.
We are social beings. One wise preacher reminds us that a “threefold cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The threefold cord is a symbol of the benefits of community in our lives. We need a place to belong, a group that values us, a tribe to claim. We need other people.
In North American culture, these basic human needs are often unmet, as our society becomes increasingly fragmented and individualistic. Work and study opportunities pull people from their original communities. Individuals and families may change homes and geographic locations a number of times in the course of their lives. Each move necessitates a re-knitting of the cords of community. One of the great gifts of the Christian church is the way it can provide a gathering place for people. For those of us unable to gather with family, we can love the ones we’re with!
Back to the Friday afternoon “ice cream run,” the preacher in Ecclesiastes has a few more pithy words that might apply. After the famous poem about a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), he offers this advice in verses 12-13: “There is nothing better for them [the workers who toil] than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live. . . It is God’s gift that they should eat and drink and take pleasure.”
Happiness. Enjoyment. God’s gift. Eating. Pleasure. That just about sums up a Friday afternoon ice cream cone shared in the company of good family-like friends.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Winnipeg, Man., where she ponders family relationships as a pastor, counsellor and author.