I texted a friend recently asking if she and her husband wanted to go to dinner, the three of us. She responded they'd love to do dinner, and invited me over for (really good) homemade pizza. It wasn't until halfway through laughter and pizza and a bottle of wine that I realized they had invited me into their date night. And it wasn't out of pity, because I know my friends. If they have set plans, they're honest. It was because they are kind and generous and thoughtful people who treat me as a whole person, with or without a boyfriend or spouse. We spent that night both laughing and discussing deep, important things, and I left with deep joy and gladness for friends who let me be their third wheel without ever making me feel like one.
I love being the third wheel. Or the fifth wheel. Or even, sometimes, the seventh wheel with my friends. And it's not because I just adore being the odd one out, but conversely, because my friends never cause me to feel that way. Sure, I could easily create that type of feeling inside myself all on my own, but my friends are intentional at treating me as a whole member of the group, with or without a partner. We laugh and debate and tell stories and talk about things of value because we are all truly friends, and I love them both individually and as couples. We go on weekend trips and for drinks in odd numbered groups and I never feel like the odd one, because of their inclusivity and kindness. They let me be my crazy, blunt, all-over-the-place self in a way that shows me they don't spend time with me out of obligation or pity but because they love me, and I love them.
For the past six months, I lived with a wonderful family of 6 (4 of whom were under age 7). They let me into their lives in a tangible, enveloping way that made me not a tenant, but a member of the family. I spent afternoons doing crafts and babbling in baby talk not because of any arrangement, but because I loved it-- these are my people, and I am a part of their family. One of my favorite moments is when a neighbor child quizzically asked the six year old in front of me, "is this your babysitter?", as though I was a mute statue in the room. He quickly looked at him and said, "No! She's our friend!". My heart leapt in that moment, because I knew that he saw me as a friend and someone who loved him just because of who he was, not out of any monetary or contractual agreement. When I'm with them, even though I've now moved out, I never feel like an outsider or the hired help. I do the dishes after dinner not out of obligation, but because I love them (and I love to do dishes). I come over on Wednesdays and make piñatas and play dress up with the kids not to babysit, but to be their friend. And they challenge and encourage and love me with a fierce and free love that is for no other reason that that: they love me, and I love them.
So many times the disciples seem to have no idea what is going on in their interactions with Jesus until the aftermath. In John 13, with a sense of urgency Jesus tells them,
"A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
Perhaps we look odd out in public, three of us getting drinks on a Saturday night in an obvious date night spot, or me as an addition to a family of 6 out to dinner. But the optics never seem to bother my friends, and they give me some amusement, because I know the truth: These are my people. I love and am loved by them, and through them I learn to be a better disciple of Jesus each day. I am not the odd one out, but the odd one in. And I love it.