The Surprising Reason Receiving Is As Good As Giving

“Where are my Christmas presents?” my son whined in the kitchen a few days before the holiday festivities began. Nervous I was raising one of those kids, you know, the demanding ones, I reassured him Christmas was coming, but quickly tacked on a reminder that Christmas is not just about gifts.

“We want to be givers,” I retorted to his distracted ears. But that was mostly for my benefit.

I want to be known for my generosity. And not just that – I want to raise children who are givers too. As parents, the last thing we want is to raise greedy, insatiable little mongrels who are obsessed with satisfying their every whim.

And while I knew the message of giving was true for my son, it wasn’t the whole story.

As much as generosity is a value we want to live and instill in our children, we don’t provide much education on how to receive. As a result, most of us are terrible gift-accepters. At least I usually am.

We can’t always be the givers though, and there’s one big reason why we ought to be as quick to receive as we are to give. 

I’ve always thought of giving as the superior act. But it can get awfully one-sided.

After college, I hosted a weekly small group made up of women from all over the world attending a local university. In my efforts to prove how much I cared for the women in my group, I attempted to provide everything from the discussion topic and food to answers for their unresolved life questions.

Halfway through the school year, I attended a class on how to serve and connect with people from other cultures. The teacher told the story of a woman Jesus met at a community well, and his approach to service changed the way I thought of giving and receiving ever since.

Jesus seemed to think accepting gifts from people was an act of service to them, but he did it in his subtle, son-of-God way. Early in his teaching days, he found himself at a well in a region called Samaria. He was thirsty from his trip, and his disciples had left to find food or water. He sat down at the side of the well and waited for them to return.

Before long, a woman approached the well with her water jar. They exchanged pleasantries, then he broke all the cultural norms: he asked her for a drink.

This was always part of the story I skipped over. It just seemed like a Jesus-style conversation starter, but it was far more than that. Receiving a drink from the Samaritan woman was an act of empowerment.

What we intuitively know about giving is that the giver is the one with power. The one who gives a tangible gift or information is the person who has something the recipient needs or wants. So when someone gives us something, we are in a humble and vulnerable position, a place of need.

This is why many of us are great at giving but terrible at receiving. We want to be the one to pay for the groceries, but we hope to avoid ever needing our groceries purchased.

But we’ve mistaken receiving for taking. Taking something from someone is not necessarily empowering. Taking is similar to “grabbing” or even “theft”. When someone who has less than we do extends an offer or gift to us, it seems so natural to decline. After all, we don’t want to put them in a worse position.

Often, however, a person who may only have a little wants to give to feel that sense of influence in someone else’s life. And when we receive something from someone, a gift, advice or inspiration, we are giving value to them. We are placing them in a position of influence and power in our lives.

[Click for photo credit]
[Click for photo credit]
Isn’t that incredible?

So what if we stopped feeling guilty when our neighbor on a fixed-income brings us a Christmas gift?

What if we gave a hearty “Thank you” to the family at church who just applied for welfare but insists on bringing us a meal when we’re sick?

What if we gave those with little the chance to give big so they can feel the sense of power we get when we give?

This is by no means a chastisement against generosity. I still love giving. I only want to encourage us to be really good givers AND really good receivers. What if we could do both with great humility and grace? I think we can.

So this year, let’s use the same generosity it takes to give when we receive, knowing that our welcoming acceptance of the kindness of others is also a kindness to them.

Merry Christmas to you.

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