The gift of receiving

Years ago, when I was attending Bible study regularly for the first time, we talked about spiritual gifts–things like teaching, discernment, encouragement and giving. I remember our leader at the time joked that he had the gift of receiving. We laughed, of course, because really, who wouldn’t want that gift?

In recent years, I’ve discovered that there just might be a gift to receiving. Or maybe it’s an art.

Here are a couple of ways NOT to do it:

  • Someone brings you unasked-for gifts for your children and you notice that the puzzle for your son is one he already has. Definitely do NOT tell the person, “Oh, he already has that one.” Unless of course you enjoy crushing people.
  • You receive a gift at a birthday party and you already have it. Do NOT be rude by tossing it aside and announcing, “Oh, another one.” See the previous example about crushing people’s spirits.

Both are true stories. Both perpetrated by me. I was an elementary student when one of them happened. The other, it was yesterday. So, see I still have a lot to learn about receiving.

Our family is in a season of receiving, which sounds really selfish and greedy when I write it that way. But it’s true. In the last four years, we have received everything from child care to  food to money, all given in love, without condition or thought of repayment.

Based on some of the things people have said when they were giving us things, I could add a couple more “do nots” to the previous ones.

  • Don’t be ungrateful. Say “thank you” no matter what it is. If it’s something you wouldn’t or couldn’t eat or didn’t like, don’t embarrass the giver by telling them that. Our family isn’t picky when it comes to food, so I can’t think of anything we’d turn down. And we definitely wouldn’t ask the person to return it and get us something else. A gift is a gift, and the intentions are likely good. Pass on the blessing if you find yourself with something you can’t use.
  • Don’t make a fuss or pretend you don’t need help. Some people will just give you money or food and not ask first if they can. I like these people because they go ahead and do what they feel led to do. Others will say, “Is it okay if I …?” and that sometimes makes it  harder to say, “yes.” Even if it’s embarrassing or humbling, let people help you. I can’t imagine turning down help when we truly need it. It doesn’t get easier, but there are times when you’re in need to the point that you can’t say “no.”

In this season of receiving, we’re also learning how to give. To hold things loosely, as people like to say. To bless others out of the abundance we have. We might not be able to give someone the money they need but we have an attic full of kids’ clothes, so we’re finding homes for those. In the obscene wealth of this country (as compared to other countries) there is always something to give. We exchange child care with another family–gifts of time.

And because we’ve received, we feel an obligation, a responsibility, to give in the future to those who face the same situations we’ve faced: graduate school with a young family, pastoral ministry, unemployment, underemployment. We won’t limit our giving to only those, remembering “to whom much is given, much is required.”

I’ve seen people graciously receive, and I’ve seen them ungraciously receive. And I’m somewhere in between, still learning what to say and how to say it.

What would you add to the list of how not to receive? What have you learned about giving?

2 thoughts on “The gift of receiving

  1. Zach’s the worst receiver. He is so serious when he gets gifts I ask him if he likes it like 5 times and then always feel obligated to give a justification of why I got him that. He’s the same with compliments. When he adjusted me today the Dr. watching said ‘that was a good thrust with good speed, for anybody’ and he said, ‘okay.’ So, I think what I’ve learned from him is to make sure the other person knows you are grateful from what you’re receiving and as a giver understand that others aren’t always vocal with their emotions. I’ve also had to learn to allow others to do a lot of things for me in the past few months since I’ve been so sick. It’s a whole new level of trust and giving control. I think that being gracious and grateful is so important so others don’t feel obligated but know that you truly appreciate everything they are doing. For me, this has been quite an effort, because I am much more of a giver and caregiver than someone who wants to be taken care of.

    • I’m bad about this, too. I feel pressure (real or perceived) to have this instant reaction and that’s SO not me. I’d rather show a person I like something by using it/wearing it/displaying it and/or writing a thank you note later than have an immediate response. This could be taken the wrong way, though, so maybe that’s a good thing to make clear in a relationship with anyone!

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