I was raised by parents, teachers and others who were all born before the Great Depression and if they had a common piece of advice it was that “it’s better to give than to receive.” While I’m grateful for their modeling and lives dedicated to giving, I also find merit in receiving.
I’m not discounting the value of their wisdom, nor am I advocating for selfishness. Yet as a minister who gives Pastoral Care, I do see how difficult it has been for many raised by Depression Age elders to ask for and receive help. One of the greatest challenges of illness or aging is losing our independence. And especially in the aging stage of life, we often need to shift from giving to receiving and to seek a new balance of both.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the action of giving or doing a favor can create a flow of generosity that often continues to flow from the giver to the receiver and onto someone else. Yet there can be another side to giving. If we overdo it, constant giving can also sometimes create resentment in the giver. And certain kinds of receiving, too, especially of overly lavish gifts or unsolicited advice can create resentment, too.
Of course, holidays and birthdays bring a different dynamic. We all rush to buy a present for another because we wish to please and honor them. Yet remember when you were embarrassed because someone spent more on you than you did on her/him/them? I know someone who turns the table and enjoys giving gifts to others on his birthday. I like that idea because I believe he gets a lot of satisfaction from this generosity which, in turn, is a gift to himself.
My point today is that giving is pleasurable when we are not overwhelmed with the unrelenting needs of others. As givers, we need to set limits on our giving and share the responsibilities with others like our busy Care Team does. Receiving can be pleasurable, too. Receivers need to accept with gratitude, show their appreciation, and be prepared to reciprocate if and when they can. In our Beloved Community, we are attentive to our wholeness, which integrates our plurality including opposites and extremes — all for the common good. To maintain balance, no one should only take or only give. We each take our turn at both and often we repay not the person who aided us but someone else in our fellowship. And they, in turn, pass it on.
I’ve been pretty much all over the place with this commentary on the the pros and cons of giving and receiving. I invite you to think about this and discuss it with others. Next time you wish to create a little good will, you might ask for advice or accept a favor graciously, without thought of immediate return. If you need help, ask for it frankly and openly. Remember that your gracious receiving can be a real gift for others.
Wishing you the many blessings of giving and receiving in this holiday season.
With deep respect,
Rev. Mark Skrabacz