Receiving can be even harder than giving

Giving is something I have always taken seriously. Whether motivated by family example, Scripture or a basic desire to do the right thing, I have spent my life trying to be a contributor.

My philanthropic career began early, with my older sister and I insisting our mother let us buy gumballs from the Kiwanis-sponsored glass jar machine in the lobby of our local bank, allegedly to help others. We’d yank at her heartstrings, reminding that Kiwanians served the youth of the world, including children in impoverished countries who didn’t have the luxury of fighting with a sibling over who got which color of gumball (for the record, the dark pink ones were best).

From there I moved on to chucking pennies into zoo pools, nickels into historic site wishing wells and dimes into public museum fountains. Good causes gave good reason to skip all manner of loose change across artificial bodies of water. We also discovered UNICEF trick-or-treating yielded extra candy.

Okay, so my early giving may not have been purely motivated, but over time, rote motions led to genuine emotions, eventually becoming habit. Giving is something I am committed to; every little bit counts, even when it sometimes feels like a small gumball in the glass jar of giving.

Most of us can quote from 2 Corinthians 9:7 that “God loves a cheerful giver” and paraphrase from Acts 20:35 that it is “better to give than receive.” God’s Word has emblazoned on our brains the importance of giving. Unfortunately, often to the exclusion of the importance of being a cheerful receiver.

A few Sundays ago on my way home from church, I stopped by Home Depot to purchase a few 50-pound bags of stone to fill holes in my driveway. Never mind that I was wearing a skirt and heels, I was determined to get those rocks before the project again slipped my mind. As I started hoisting bags into the trunk of my car, a man and his wife walked by. “Would you like help with those?” he asked.

“No, I’ve got it,” I said automatically.

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” he persisted. But I assured I was fine with doing it myself. There’s a reason my favorite childhood story was the self-sufficiency classic, The Little Red Hen. On my drive home, while surveying the dust smudges on my skirt and jacket, it hit me: I should have accepted the man’s kindness. He wouldn’t have offered if he hadn’t meant it. And clearly, his help had been needed.

From what did this unconscious denial of need stem? My self-sufficiency had become as much of a habit as my giving. While I wouldn’t cut off another driver in traffic, I didn’t think twice about cutting off a well-meaning person’s drive to bless me.

“It’s okay, I’ve got it.” Whether or not I did. In my quest to not be selfish, act entitled or feel helpless, I regularly rejected others’ goodness. If that revelation weren’t humbling enough, on a more cosmic scale, I could see how my “receiving bad” probably cancelled out my “giving good.” So much for adding something of value to the world.

Ironically, rejection of compassion has always puzzled me. Doesn’t it frustrate you when people act that way when you truly want to help? It brings to mind Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” For every cheerful giver there needs to be a cheerful receiver. We need to wise up.

I began looking not only for opportunities to bless others, but opportunities to let them bless me. How very different receiving feels with pride set aside and heart focused on blessing the giver. My only major relapse came when a former colleague offered to loan me money at a time when I most needed it due to extended unemployment.

“Thanks, but I’m okay,” I said out of habit. But the next day, a heating fuel bill reminded me I was actually about 26 miles from okay. The only real “okay” needed was the humility to accept a friend’s heartfelt desire and ability to meet my needs. May 2012 see everyone become more cheerful givers and receivers.

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