One of the greatest joys of my life is getting to be a part of multiple families. Being single has allowed me to develop deep relationships with a number of families, and having lived in a few places, I have families in several parts of the country. They’re the sort of relationships where I know I could turn up at any time, stick the kettle on, and make myself at home.
These friendships are really important. They are part of what makes singleness plausible for me. I may be single and not have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to experience family. In a way, I think I have a richer experience of family than many of my married friends.
What I love most about these families is that when I’m with them, and I’m in their homes, I’m not a guest, I’m just part of the family. When you’re a guest, you’re there to be looked after. We talk about entertaining guests – as the word suggests, the host’s role in this situation is to keep the guest entertained. We feel the pressure to make sure they’re not left alone too long, to keep the conversation active and interesting, and to impress them with the tidiness of our house and the quality of our catering. But when you’re part of the family, you’re not there to be entertained; you’re there to play your part. You’re not a consumer; you’re a contributor. For the hosts, there’s no need to impress. There’s no need to make everything special. The beautiful thing about family life is that most of it isn’t about the special occasions; it’s just about doing ordinary life but doing it together.
When you’re part of the family, you’re not there to be entertained; you’re there to play your part.
I have a little way of testing whether I’m somewhere as a guest or as part of the family. I call it ‘The Dishwasher Test’. We’ll finish eating, we’ll take stuff back to the kitchen, and I’ll start stacking the dishwasher. If they think I’m there as a guest, they’re likely to try and stop me. ‘Don’t do that Andrew. We’ll do it later. You’re our guest.’ But if I’m there as part of the family, they won’t bat an eyelid; they’ll just join in beside me. I’m mucking in with what needs to be done, and that’s what families do. If I come to your house, I will feel more at home if you let me help with the dishwasher.
The Dishwasher Test is a bit tongue-in-cheek. There’s nothing wrong with having someone around as a guest. Sometimes it is lovely to be entertained. (And some people are just very particular about how they stack their dishwasher!) But I’m so grateful that there are some people who let me come around as family, and not as a guest. These are the times when I feel most relaxed and most loved. They are the times when I see that God has given me, not just family, but multiple families.