The other day I got to thinking about the phrase “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” While I fundamentally believe that giving to others around me is a good thing, I also believe that learning to receive is also good. There is some unstated implication that being on the receiving end of someone’s generosity is somehow not noble, and that people who give are somehow better.
I have known people who martyr themselves with high levels of self-sacrifice, constantly giving to others, and appearing so self-sufficient that anyone watching would think they didn’t need anything, and so few people offer to reciprocate and do anything for them. I have generally tended to be more on the martyr-like giving side, offering my time, energy, and financial means to a wide variety of people. In my personal life as well as at work, I would give and give. The problem with all that giving is that sooner or later you have to run out of something–time, energy, money–and then you have no choice but to ask for help, you have to learn to receive graciously.
The truth is, there’s a hefty amount of ego wrapped up in the whole giving thing, the saint-like righteousness of doing things for people and being praised for one’s selflessness. But after a while we live for the praise, for the kudos we get for being so selfless. We start doing things more for the kudos than for the person we were helping. Or we get resentful because nobody is doing anything for us. We look so self-sufficient and strong that it doesn’t occur to the folks around us that we ever have need of anything, and so they stop offering. And then when we really need something we don’t know whom and how to ask, and when we figure out that part, we squirm at actually needing something and asking for it.
At the end of the day it comes down to motivation. Some people truly are motivated to give of themselves and think nothing of doing so. They are genuinely delighted when someone does something for them in return, though that’s not why they do the things they do. Over time they come to understand the “give and take” of, well, giving and receiving and learn how to do so with grace and equanimity. I have to think a while before I come up with role models of a good receiver. Most of the people I know tend toward being givers. But I am optimistic that learning to receive is a skill I can develop, even as I continue to give of myself, hopefully without looking for something in return.
As we turn the corner toward the end of these 40-plus days, there are yet more lessons to learn and questions to ponder. This year’s journey has been more challenging for me than my first two years sojourning through the Lenten season. That somehow feels fitting for the season, given that Lent is very much about sacrifice and such. As I think back over 50 years to one of my childhood prayers about offering, “my prayers, works, joys, sufferings of this day” I understand that this blogging has become a practice, a discipline, something that I do whether it’s easy or not, and in fact especially when it is not easy. I confess I will be glad when next Sunday rolls around and I get my evenings back. Until then, this is my offering, my gift to whoever choses to receive it.