“But why don’t we have any family to be with?” My kindergarten daughter looked up at me, tears brimming in her blue eyes. She is still our favorite party otter to this day, always anticipating the next opportunity to go somewhere and do something fun with people she loves. Although my family lived only two hours West and Ken’s family one-hour North, they were all unavailable for family picnics and parades during Memorial Day weekend. My family owns greenhouses so for them the holiday means many customers and loooooong work hours. Ken’s family owned a large sailboat and end of May meant getting the boat ready for the summer season.
Our friends were all off enjoying camping or cottaging with their extended family “up North” “down at the lake” or “at the beach.” (That’s how we roll in Michigan during the summers. Holidays and weekends, our cities empty out to our abundant lakefronts and woodlands.) All week, Jennifer’s classmates jabbered excitedly about “going to Nana’s cottage,” “camping with our cousins,” “boating with my aunt and uncle,” etc. etc. etc. Just hanging out with Mommy and Daddy all weekend sounded quiet and lonely by comparison.
Following God often means moving away from family, friends and hometowns. Full time ministry families frequently spend many holidays alone. Travel expenses and vacations must be reserved for Christmas, weddings and other important life events. Smaller holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day, etc. can be incredibly lonely when you are separated from extended family, especially if God positions you in an area like West Michigan where people stay planted for many generations. Even in very mobile areas where few people have extended family nearby, I’ve spoken with folks who, due to their ministry demands, struggle to find enough time to build family-like circles of friends.
Abraham, Moses, and Joseph all spent decades living far, far away from any extended family. To achieve their destinies, God separated them from beloved siblings and parents. Surely they experienced times of great longing and loneliness for those who knew them best and loved them most. When my husband moved me from Central Michigan to Chicago, for graduate school, (a scant four hours away) I developed intense homesickness for the first time in my life. Except for Christmas, we missed every other holiday with our families due to our work and school schedules and tight budget.
After a very tearful Labor Day weekend, we decided to prioritize time and energy to make friends. God graciously provided many quality, godly people who lived in the same on-campus apartment building with us. We literally started knocking on doors and introducing ourselves, discovering that we were surrounded by a lot of lonely, homesick, newly married couples. By Thanksgiving our circle of friends was so strong we celebrated Thanksgiving together in our tiny apartment.
Perhaps your family is all alone for this July 4th weekend. I remember well what that feels like and I am praying God will show you some fun activities you can enjoy together. Secondly, I’m asking Him to give you friends to spend time with on the next holiday. God truly does provide for our needs “according to his riches in glory.” (Philippians 4:19) His wealth includes the richness of relationships.
If you are blessed to live and minister in close proximity to your extended family or lifelong friends, please look around you for those who might not, particularly families in full time ministry work. Can you include them with your extended family or schedule a separate get- together with just your family and theirs? Remember, we reap what we sow. Just because you are ministering on familiar turf today doesn’t mean you will be a year from now. Always be about the business of sowing good seed! You never know when you might need to harvest it.
If someone extends an invitation to your family, don’t just brush it off. God can use the most unexpected people and situations to bless us. If no invitations are forthcoming, look around, just like Ken and I did in grad school. Did we feel kind of goofy just knocking on doors? Yup. Was it worth it? Absolutely. There might be wonderful potential relationships right around you, just waiting for you to take the first step. Ask God to open your eyes and heart to new people and new possibilities and trust Him to lead you.