When you start questioning Bible verses, you know you’re in trouble.
And yet, I am questioning the wisdom of a well-known bit of scripture:
It is better to give than to receive.
Over the last few weeks, and with a little trepidation about errant lightning bolts, I’ve decided I disagree.
It seems to me that in believing that, we create an unequal relationship between ourselves and our fellow man, he whom we supposedly wish to help. And yet the very act of helping, of giving, automatically makes us better — or more blessed, depending on your specific translation — than the recipient.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us struggle with being able to open up ourselves to receive.
My family and I received a lot while we were traveling around the country for 10 months. We received free stays in guest rooms and free parking in driveways. We were given meals, access to laundry facilities, and sometimes even the gift of outright laundering our dirty clothes for us (I still can’t get over the kindness of someone voluntarily washing our dirty socks!) While we didn’t budget for these kindnesses, there’s no doubt that they changed the nature of our trip. We traveled further and longer than we could have without these blessings, and more than that we were transformed by the experience of having so much generosity heaped upon us.
At first, I tried to keep score of all that we were given, a careful accounting that would ensure I was able to precisely payback what had been received. But as this mental debt accumulated, I realized that it prevented me from really embracing what was being offered: kindness, love, encouragement, and even optimism. As long as I was obsessed with balancing the scales, I couldn’t truly honor the gift itself.
I stopped keeping track of my sense of obligation and started counting my blessings.
I learned to say thank you without adjusting an internal ledger. I enjoyed kindness freely given and was humbled by it, but not made less than.
I said, “thank you,” and meant just that.
I found that it made me more generous. Now I can give of myself not to settle the score, but because it is just as good to give as it is to receive. I can give and walk away, with no expectation of forward or repayment, but simply with the peace that comes from letting pieces of yourself go.
In recent weeks, I’ve decided to resist the urge to explain exactly how I’m giving back, or to justify what I am and am not taking from the world; it’s easy to make assumptions about what a person or family must be taking from others when they aren’t living the way “most” people do. I have been tempted to make clear exactly what I provide on my own, exactly what I do not expect from others. But in doing that, I would have propagated the belief that receiving is bad,that it is less than giving and a sign of weakness.
Without receiving, there is no giving.
The two are linked, equal parts of a potentially beautiful whole. So why not enjoy one as much as we do the other? Why not bless our other half by eliminating guilt or groveling from the transaction?
Give, receive. Receive and give.
Do both with a spirit of love.
Do you struggle with receiving? Do you find it easier to give help than to get it?