Giving and Receiving

Beggar 

Giving and receiving. So many of us are great at giving, aren’t we? Christmas shopping and gift giving is a favorite pastime for many. Also, Americans are known as the most generous people on the planet (we don’t hear much about this in the news, do we?)–other countries see it, know it to be true. Americans pride themselves on taking care of their own and helping others–by and large, we’re self made people with big hearts. Of course, there are exceptions: some Americans expect handouts or to be taken care of, but such thinking is countercultural and people who think like this are usually marginalized by the rest. This minority tends to live off of others or society, almost parasitically. We all know someone like this, don’t we? Finding feet beneath them to take them into tomorrow is a huge challenge for these souls. Are we all complicit in this? You bet. Can we help? You bet. Do we help? You bet. Do some stand and move forward because of our help? You bet. Does dependency linger from generation to generation anyway? You bet. Do we try new ways to lay solid ground beneath them? You bet. Will they ever be no more? No way. “Huh?” you say. I say they will always be, and someday they may be you and/or I. None of us is guaranteed a healthy, wealthy, bomb free life, none of us. Someday we may be refugees, or hungry, or without an address, or in a wheelchair, or without mental fluency. Yep, those souls we meet on city streets could be us in no time flat–cup in hand and all. We hate to think about it, for it invokes fear, but it glances our way just the same and toys with our heads. We’re vulnerable.

So, back to the top: we are generous, giving people. Ahh…I should stop there, that feels good, doesn’t it?

Ok, onward. How are we at receiving? Do we easily receive what others gift us with? Do we easily walk through a door someone holds open for us? Do we take in a smile someone we’ve never met plants on us in passing? Do we take in our surroundings? Do we let others help us when we cannot do it ourselves? Do we allow others to love us? Do we allow God to love us? Do we listen and actually hear another? Do we listen for and hear God? Can we receive? Are we open enough and humble enough to say ‘yes’ when something is given, when something is offered, when arrangements are made, when God speaks?

If we don’t learn to receive sooner, then I think we’re forced to learn later, if we live long enough. As abilities and capacities fade with age we either die broken in our pride or learn to gracefully receive care and help. For some loss of ability is an earth shattering turning–fraught with anger and humiliation. For some, it involves resignation and sorrow. For a few, there is understanding: for they know the joys of giving. They know that there is no giving unless there is someone to receive. They know that by receiving they are allowing someone to receive the joy inherent in giving. They realize they are actually helping another by being a gracious receiver…and, in so doing, they become givers. The giving becomes mutual and both parties become receivers. Dependency morphs into a beautiful interdependency–life is given both ways.

A few years ago, my hubby and I had two days in Venice. It was an over the top last minute side trip that we’ll never regret taking. One of the most blessed memories I have of that place took place in St Mark’s Square. Beggars mingle with the crowd and hold out their cups, some with a verbal plea, others with pleading eyes. As Rich and I stood in line to get into St Mark’s Cathedral, a short, stout, elderly lady moved up and down the line with her cup. She smiled sweetly and never insisted, just gave people an opportunity to drop a coin. I nudged Rich with a strong elbow—for he held all our cash. He looked at me with a ‘you can’t be serious’ look and shook his head. I persisted, though, and a coin was presented. With a prayer of blessing I looked her in the eye and dropped the coin in her cup. She touched my hand, looked me in the eye, smiled and nodded graciously. Her eyes shone bright. In trying to bless her, I’d been blessed by her, I’d been blessed by giving, I’d been blessed by God. I couldn’t believe it. I cried. Right there in line at St Mark’s Square, I cried. We’d both been blessed.

Can something similar happen in our relationship with God? I think so. I think if we realize the joy He takes in blessing us, in giving us all good gifts in Him, in whispering sweet nothings in our ear, then we’re likely willing to receive His love for us, His care for us, to let Him lead us. We’re likely to give Him more and more of ourselves, our lives. The giving is mutual and the relationship is ordered aright…we take ourselves out of the God seat and let Him reside there. We open ourselves to Him and stay responsive. In humility we breathe His life and give Him ours. Beautiful…

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