December 24, 2014

On Gracious Receiving


 “Until we can receive with an open heart, we're never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”
― BrenĂ© Brown,

When my children were young, we used to get letters from the Chicago Post office that were addressed to Santa Claus. The letters from needy families were collected and offered to people in the community who wanted to be a part of helping someones Christmas wish come true. Acting as Santa surrogates was a wonderful experience for our whole family. The children receiving the gifts (who were told that they wouldn't fit on Santa's sleigh) were filled with delighted excitement. It took the joy of Christmas to a whole new level to be able to share it with complete strangers.

There was one difficult part about this tradition however. There was the discomfort that came from seeing the bewildered gratitude in the eyes of the parents who seemed to feel as ashamed of themselves as they were happy for their children. If you've ever been on the "receiving" end of service you understand what I mean. 

It's so much simpler to be a gracious giver. Receiving requires us to dig a lot deeper. It means admitting that maybe we're not the completely self reliant super humans we'd like to believe we are. It means accepting that sometimes - just sometimes we need other people to lend us a hand - like it or not, and usually it's "not." There's no shame in being on the down cycle of the wave of life. It's a rare person who never falls, even temporarily on financial difficulties, and even they will have some need of others from time to time.

I'm writing this as a terrible hypocrite. I say that because I was the absolutely worst acceptor on the planet. Being parents forces us (thankfully) into self sacrifice. Sometimes circumstances also force us into becoming - out of necessity - better acceptors. When that doesn't happen - and sometimes even when it does, we can still be horrible receivers.

I was fortunate to meet someone who taught me this skill. My friend Jim is a keen observer of people. He quickly became aware that "allowing and accepting" were not on my short list of highly developed character traits. He "forced" me not only to confront those facts about myself but to develop them as a result.

I can remember the day he decided to make dinner for me. (Uncomfortable from the get go.) I was sitting in his living room on his sofa squirming. I'd already asked what I could do to help. "Nothing." he said. "Not until you learn to allow and accept." WHAT? I'd never met anyone who was adamant about doing something for me just for the sake of making me confront how lousy I was at accepting. It was a painful process. At one point Jim called out from the kitchen "You are actually moaning from the discomfort. I just heard it." and he was absolutely right. "Receiving" was excruciating for me and I felt actual suffering  as a result.

I also refused to "accept" complements. I'd find some snide remark to follow them up with so to discount them immediately. Jim was quick to call me out on that as well. He was and still is a great mirror for me, shining back a perfect picture of my weaknesses and also of my strengths. When the rare chance comes to see ourselves through someone elses eyes, we should look deeply - and I did.

I came to realize the disservice I was doing others by not allowing them to serve me. In providing the opportunity for the "giver" to "receive" the joy that comes from sacrifice for the benefit of another, we also provide a service to them as well. I had in essence been denying others the blessings that come through service. I was a blessing hog! I was happy to feel the joy myself when I could be the cheerful giver but would deny others that same opportunity.

Being gracious acceptors requires us to open ourselves up - to let someone else in.  It's truly by serving others that we come to love them. A great example of this is a parent's love for their children. There is no more demanding "service" opportunity, and it's a long term proposition - but can you think of a stronger bond than that of a parent to their child? I can't.

So during this Christmas season, and from here on in, consider what a gift it is for you to allow someone to serve, or complement you. Swallow hard (in the beginning) and just accept the gift you've been given with gratitude - for both of your sakes. It does get easier. I promise!

Are you an uncomfortable acceptor? How does it affect you?

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