“We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
For many years, so many people poured out love, gifts, food, and extravagant acts of kindness on my family as we battled through Perrin’s cancer. We learned to receive knowing that there was no way we could reciprocate.
As a child, I remember that at the time of the offering at our Episcopalian church, the minister would say, “Remember the words of our Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” I guess that was meant to encourage us to give, but it had another effect on me. I heard through his words that giving is superior to receiving. While in many ways that is true, I have learned that I can distort anything. My distortion is to give, but use giving as a power play. When I give to someone, it puts me in the position of power while the other person is beholden to my graciousness. Equally, receiving a gift is humbling. Isn’t this why we so often immediately look “to return the favor?” It evens the scales and we no longer feel indebted. Learning to receive is as important as the willingness to give.
When Jesus went to wash Peter’s feet, Peter resisted at first. Receiving such a gift from Jesus seemed wildly inappropriate. It was more than Peter could bear. Then Jesus chided him saying that unless he received this gift, he had no part with Jesus. Strong words. Receiving is the beginning of true giving.
I have come to believe that I can only give that which I have first received. I can only love to the degree I have received love from another person or from God. Some people seem incapable of loving. I wonder whether it is because they have never been loved.
I am compassionate to the degree that I have received compassion. I comfort others only because I have first been comforted. Paul states this clearly when he speaks of God as, “the God of all comforts, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Cor. 1:4)
We give out of the abundance that we receive. Any other giving is just a power play, or an attempt to even the scales. This means that in order to be genuine generous givers, we need to become willing and grateful receivers. When we receive, then giving becomes the natural response to the gift given us. Love begets love. Forgiveness leads to forgiving. Compassion ripples out from compassion received. Giving is inextricably tied to receiving.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I seek to maintain control by always being the one who is giving?
- Do I immediately look to “return the favor” as a way of evening the scales?
- Do I look for and expect an appropriate “thank you” after giving to someone?
- Am I able to graciously and gratefully receive a gift?
Receiving well is the starting point of giving freely. Gratitude begets graciousness and generosity. The circle goes like this; receive a blessing, then pass that blessing on and be blessed in the giving.