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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4 Reasons White Evangelicals Are Missing It On #BlackLivesMatter

I grew up in a family that obsessively fought for the rights of the unborn. Once I built my blog a few years ago, I found it easy to take up this familiar banner, if not because of my background, because my heart broke over the reality of unwanted children.

I saw the right of a child to be born as the social justice on which all others hinged. Even the issue of race appeared to bow to this basic right to life.

However, as the news of police violence toward unarmed persons of color echoed through the media for months and years on end, along with the court’s responses, or lack thereof, I felt a new kind of unease pass over me. And a disturbing loss for words.

While bloggers and artists I respected responded eloquently to the events, I read along silently at first. I had friends on both sides of the issues, and I didn’t know how to present my side in a meaningful way.

But there were reasons I didn’t recognize that kept me quiet. They surfaced awkwardly, painfully after I did something I never planned to do.

As I considered the growing momentum building behind this fight for racial justice, I looked around and missed Someone: The Church. Specifically, the Evangelical Christians, with whom I typically associate.

The Church should be at the front of this fight, I thought. Someone in the Church needs to organize a protest.

The next thought surprised me: It should be you.

I agreed with the first part. Where was the white Evangelical base who rants and raves about all forms of immorality? Where were the culture warriors? The Moral Majority? There were as quiet as me, it seemed.

But the “it should be you” part freaked me out. I’m just a mom with two kids and a full-time job. Most days, surviving domesticity pummels the radical right out of me. I made the excuses: I have no time to organize a protest, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before.

But like the Holy Spirit is prone to do, the whispers grew louder and my excuses grew lamer. Before I knew it, I was Googling “assembly permit” in my city and filling out the form.

The night of the protest, about 40 residents of both black and white ethnicities showed up at a little park in the city’s center. Armed with signs and heavy hearts, we listened to the President of the Black Student Union, whose name most appropriately is Justice, as she encouraged us in our common fight. It turned out, she told us, we encouraged her in hers. Then we quietly heard a beautiful sermon by Pastor Caela, the Reverend of the Congregational Church downtown.

And then I led the white folks present in a prayer of repentance, followed by a humble request that our black brothers and sister present would accept it from us. They graciously did.

Something in the air shifted that night. Something old moved over to make room for something new. I can’t explain it much better than that, but all of our hearts agreed that enough was enough. And that all it took to start a new thing.

After prayer, we spread out along the sidewalks, street corners and spilled onto the medians, children and their parents bundled and huddled together. Some of us carried candles and others signs. I regretted forgetting my gloves as my cold, dry hands clung to a sign that read simply #BlackLivesMatter.

Two of the girls attending our protest Wednesday evening. Proud to stand with them. [Photo courtesy of The Collegian]
Two of the girls attending our protest Wednesday evening. Proud to stand with them. [Photo courtesy of The Collegian]
As I packed up the candles and signs for the night, I still didn’t know what I had done. It felt so surreal. It wasn’t until Sunday morning when Josh and I joined churches around the world to preach, honor and recognize #BlackLivesMatterSunday that I finally made sense of the necessity of this fight.

I sat in my car a few moments before going into church to scratch down my thoughts. It was then I finally knew: Racism is the ultimate human rights issue.

Racism impacts my fight for gender equality, reproductive and unborn rights or the fight against human trafficking. Racism touches every social justice issue we all care about. Why? Because if we hold racism in our hearts, we will inevitably care more about the white girls that are trafficked than we do about the little ones in China, Nigeria or India.

For example, black abortions are disproportionately represented in the statistics, with recent numbers showing that black women, while making up only 13 percent of the population, will have one-third of our nation’s abortions.

Indeed there is a clear connection between racism and other human rights. Racism is a belief that some of us have more of a right to be here than others. And it undoubtedly influences our outrage over the myriad of other justice violations in our world.

So why do we, the young, white Evangelical Church, consistently miss the racism issue? Here are a few of the reasons we’ve been blind.

1. We have assumed it was resolved. We thought our parents and grandparents already fought this fight so we moved on. But we thought it was resolved because of who we spend time with.
2. We have mostly white friends in a mostly white city whose news is covered by mostly white media. What chance do we have to hear about injustice from a minority that is underrepresented?
3. At the root, we feel overwhelmed by shame and guilt for our sins and the sins of our ancestors yet we feel powerless to do anything about it. We wish the race issue would just go away already so we can stop facing off against this force. In the meantime, we assuage our guilt by telling ourselves and our white friends about the black family members, friends and co-workers we have. See, we aren’t so bad?  
4. We are afraid to speak because the racism is gonna come out if we do. My racial biases are sitting at the tip of my tongue, and I know as well as you, that as soon as I open my mouth, I’m walking into a minefield of political incorrectness. Essentially, I am guaranteed to sound like a bigoted jerk. So why risk it? Just stay neutral. And this is what we have done.
But as we all know, silence is consent. And we cannot consent to this, the ultimate human rights issue.
So what can we do? Maybe the opposite of what we’ve been doing, to start.
1. Realize the issue of racism is not resolved. Centuries of institutionalized racism have created a system white people continue to benefit from. You and I, white folks, profit from racism on a daily basis. Sure, we work hard and there are plenty of things we owe to our efforts and the efforts of our parents. But opportunities are not equal. We have a ways to go in eliminating racism from our society.
2. We don’t hear black stories because we don’t talk to black people. We might talk news, sports, weather with our black friends and co-workers, but have you ever really asked one of your black friends what it’s like to be person of color in America? Don’t assume you know. I promise, you don’t know what it’s like. So it’s our turn to listen, to hear, to empathize. Imagine a world where we were the suspect minority, just because of the color of our skin. Imagine it’s you, not them, and that will jog you out of any apathy you’re still in.
3. Deal with your guilt and shame. I’ve had to pray and repent for the racism and discrimination in my heart more often than I want to admit. I repented to God and twice in a week repented to persons of color in my city and my church, along with other white folks, asking them to accept our apologies. Now, I realize racism goes both ways, and racial prejudice is not only a white person problem. It’s a human problem. But in order for me to part of the solution, I have to own my junk: that I feel really bad about slavery and patronizing people or color and benefiting from white privilege but I stumble over myself to fix it. But I’m sorry. I am so sorry.
4. Accept that you are going to sound like a jerk as you advocate for racial equality. Our whole culture is pretty much racist, and this impacts our language. You will be politically incorrect and people may string you up in the comments section for it, but expect to apologize, hope the right people will hear your heart, and move on.
I knew when I created the protest event on Facebook, I was going to screw up the language and my words would out me, but I decided it was worth it. It didn’t take long. In my first version of the event invite, I encouraged people to write #AllLivesMatter so our protest could be extra inclusive. I thought I was doing a good thing. But one of my fellow organizers gently corrected me, saying, in this time, in this season, black people in America want to know if their lives, in particular, matter.
As my husband preached on Sunday, if your daughter asks you if she’s beautiful, you wouldn’t say, “Of course, honey, all little girls are pretty.” 

One of the ways I’ve participated in healing and reconciliation in the past was leading people through this prayer, which I more or less borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr. himself. Would you like to pray it with me? I’ve placed it here below for a meditation and action step for all of us. Let’s keep this conversation going.

The repentance prayer

How have we sinned, we may ask ourselves, perhaps for ignorance or confusion?

In Martin Luther King Jr’s 1965 interview with Alex Haley, he said the white person feels great guilt for what we have done to Black people: “for patronizing the black person, degrading him, brutalizing him, depersonalizing him, thingifying him; guilt for lying to themselves.”

Today we acknowledge this guilt that Martin Luther King Jr so eloquently called us on. We have hidden in our guilt and shame. We have allowed ourselves to be paralyzed. We have made excuses and turned our heads. We have assumed it was not so bad.

So tonight, let us repent with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

For the sins of our ancestors, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

For patronizing the black person, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

for degrading them WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

For brutalizing them, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

For depersonalizing him, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

For thingifying him; WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

For lying to ourselves. WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

With Gods help we choose to open our eyes to the injustice that is happenings around us and to identify with the hurting as Jesus called us to do. We call our city’s citizens and leaders to act to prevent oppression and systemic injustice toward black people in our community, to stop accepting it as the status quo and to be radical in eradicating violence against black people. We promise to stand with you, our black brothers and sisters, until this work is done.

God Wants You To Win

Have you noticed when you’re in the middle of some personal aggravation or life crisis, someone always suggests that God is testing you, like somehow knowing that makes the pain less? I’ve heard it a few times, and it always annoys me. I don’t like what it says about God or me.

Testing me? For what? I resent this assumption about God, as well as the assumption that I would even need to be tested. Harumph!

But then, the story of Job is evidence God does test people through trying circumstances. But not for the reasons we think.

My son has been potty-training for pretty much half his life, and at this point, it feels like half of mine. I’ve learned many valuable lessons about how NOT to potty-train, and perhaps the nice church ladies would tell me this has been one of God’s tests for me. A character formation if you will. Well, fine, then I’ve failed. Like, multiple times a day.

But that’s not the point here.

We’ve instituted a series of rewards and consequences for successful (or unsuccessful) use of the potty, and this week, we started a new routine we hope will garner more participation from our young potty pupil.

As much as I hate spending half our day in the bathroom, I really don’t want my son to be 17 years old and setting cell phone reminders to use the toilet because he can’t remember on his own. I want him to get this. For the love! But irritation aside, I want him to be independent. Functional. I want him to move on to learning bigger things.

Sunday morning, I left the church service halfway through to take him to the bathroom. I didn’t have to do it. He is responsible to tell his parents or caregivers that he needs to use the potty. But I wanted him to have a win. So I marched up the endless flight of stairs to the children’s room, picked him up and together we walked down the hall to the bathroom.

He had a success. We were both proud.

The thing is, I set him up. I could’ve let him fail, but I wanted him to succeed. I could’ve said, “Well, it’s too bad that you didn’t make it. Now you’re in trouble.” But I don’t want him to lose; I want him to win.

I can’t do this every time or I’m just protecting him from his consequences. But I want him to gain momentum in the right direction. To feel pride about his forward motion.

God wants us to win too. Tests of character aren’t to weed us out. God is not your Western Civ professor from your freshman year of college. He is not the cranky man administering the driving portion of the driver’s license test. Nor is he the cantankerous librarian from junior high who just wants to catch you talking in the stacks.

He wants you to win. Like this. [Click photo for credit]

God is a Dad. The kind who plays catch. The kind with crinkly, happy eyes. The kind who wants the good version of you to just get better.

And when difficult situations arise, he is setting you up, not to fail you, but so you can win.

God has no interest in doling out tests to prove we all suck and he is awesome. He gets no weird pleasure from that.

He does allow us to encounter obstacles or adverse circumstances, good and bad surprises, annoying family members and crappy drivers in our lives, but it’s not to get us voted off the island. He wants good for us. He wants us to have a win. He gives us these situations and stands beside us to help us do it right.

Like me, he would even leave church early to walk up a long flight of stairs to make sure you don’t poop your pants. Cause he wants you to succeed at life and love even more than you already are.

So you can put down your suspicion and treat the discomfort of adversity as an act of love from a God who likes you. Because it is. And he does.


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