Lessons in giving and receiving

Throughout our lives we are told to give. Innately, we know how to take. In time we learn how to receive. Upon practice we may understand the value of sharing.

  • PublishedDecember 4, 2012

Throughout our lives we are told to give. Innately, we know how to take. In time we learn how to receive. Upon practice we may understand the value of sharing. In return we are forced to embrace it. If we’re lucky we experience what it feels to surrender. But we’ll often be conflicted over whether to hold on to something. Sometimes, having utilized all other options we are left with no choice but to let go. All of which can be acts of courage, defiance, servitude, arrogance, grace, vengeance, humility, malevolence and love.

The choice, whether conscious or subconscious, is always ours. To give or to receive. To hold or to share. To receive or to take. To take or to embrace. To surrender or to hold on. Or to refuse to have anything, to let go from the very beginning. On the surface there is no right or wrong on the decision between giving, receiving, taking, sharing, embracing or running away. Each can be justified by good intentions or nullified by irresponsible actions. Each requires a counteraction in order to maintain a healthy balance. But what happens when the fragile balance goes out of whack?

What happens when no sense of balance is ever maintained or isn’t even close to being created? Is there such a thing as too much giving? Too much sharing? Too much embracing? Or surrendering to the point of irrelevance? Morality, charity and the everyday injustices of life may lead us to think that there is no such thing as giving too much. And yes, one should give, give and give some more. Don’t worry about being altruistic, so long as your intentions are pure you can give and reap the benefits, the after glow, the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good, helping someone, being useful, making an impact. The act of giving has no equal. So give abundantly. Give truthfully. When possible, give without expectation. Above all, give authentically. For there are various other inauthentic and deceptive realms of giving that we may find ourselves lured towards. There is the species of giving out of obligation. The giving because I should, rather than because I want to.

Giving because it’s what one does. Giving because the cool kids are doing it. Giving because mama told you so. It’s not necessarily wrong to give out of obligation. But it just doesn’t feel all that great. It’s not authentic. And, in many cases, the lack of intrinsic desire takes away from the value of that which has been given. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Think about it, have you ever faked a smile and a ‘oh, you shouldn’t have’ at the sight of yet another Santa Claus sweater from Aunt Mary? Have you ever felt a tinge of guilt wrapping a last minute, second hand Christmas present (that curio with a tiny crack or that sweater from Aunt Mary) for your cousin? Yet giving out of obligation is harmless in comparison to relishing in the virtue of giving, to the point of giving to be virtuous.

When the intention to give shifts into a desire to sacrifice, you are traveling down a very slippery slope that does not end in a virtuous pool of grace. On the contrary, when you give too much you risk losing yourself. Into the lap of another. Into the deceptive peace of righteousness. Into the illusion of morality. Excessive giving becomes a subtle demonstration of superiority.

While the receivers may enjoy the fleeting feeling of power in conjunction to your devotion, over time this power transforms to powerlessness, as one is rendered dependent on your generosity. This may feel or seem constructive, but it usually ends up being counterproductive. This generosity begins to equate to value, ‘I gave him my heart, my home and my money, so therefore I must be valuable to him, or, therefore he must value me.’ Which then begins to feel like a weapon – ‘he’s using money to keep me trapped in the relationship’, ‘I will always owe him for what he’s done for me’. As this debt accumulates the likelihood of it being satisfied diminishes, exponentially.

The individual bound to this endless generosity may begin to lash out, to protest against the power the giver is using to manipulate. This type of generosity is in fact gluttony. And when you never give others the opportunity to give, or give yourself the opportunity to receive you are reflecting your low self worth. Denying what you need and/or want is not righteous; it is self-defeating. Attempting to avoid taking, or receiving the necessities of a healthy life is not humble, it is destructive. Denying yourself of the beauty of being given to, is not a display of strength, it is an avoidance of vulnerability and ultimately a rejection of your humanity. Refusing to receive is equivalent to taking too little.

It goes without saying the perils of taking too much. Of greed, selfishness, ignorance or pure laziness. But is it always wrong to take, to be selfish, to acknowledge what can and/ or should belong to you? What if, under the guise of righteousness, self-sacrifice or the greater good, you are in fact doing yourself, or someone else, a huge disservice by not only rejecting the act of receiving but denying the desire to take? I have learnt that being the sacrificial lamb, the humble soul that is satisfied with the morsels, the piece meals of life, the final drops of nutrients, comes with very limited rewards (if at all). That it’s not always just about asking and thus receiving, but it can also be about taking, what’s rightfully yours.

Of course it all depends on who or what you are taking from. What exactly you are taking. If you are taking back ‘what’s mine’, is mine your t-shirt, your home, your job, your dignity, your pride or your integrity? If you are taking what ‘belongs to you’, how is it that this possession is definitively yours? Do you have a certificate of ownership for the car, the stack of money, the intangible idea or the woman? But, as you defiantly proclaim, in most cases you are not in fact taking you are receiving. You did not take the promotion, you received it. You didn’t take the blessings of a beautiful loving wife, you received them. Be it as it may, our claims to ownership and our ability to actually own something or one, are few and far in between. Sometimes our intention to give fails not on the basis of righteousness, but on the reliance of wishes, promises and unrealistic desires. In such cases we often find ourselves attempting to give that which one has no authority to give, or is simply not, in actuality, givable. I can share my heart with you.

I most likely do, earnestly, want to share my heart with you. But I cannot, physically or metaphorically ‘give’ you my heart (unless the plan is for me to cease being). I can give you all my possessions. But those that do not belong to me are not mine to give. I can give you what I currently own, what currently exists. I can commit to giving you what I anticipate will exist. But until it comes into existence, you and I, own nothing. If ‘it’ fails to come into existence, be it the promised business revenue, the desired success, or the results of God’s work, then I have nothing to give.

You may deem yourself justified in taking the equivalent (whether monetarily or metaphorically) of that which you hoped to receive, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have nothing. Despite all these warnings I do implore you to give, give and give some more. Just remember what you are, is related to how much you give of yourself without losing sight of who you are. That who you are is reflected by how and when you give along with your ability to receive. That you do not have to give to define your value. That the ability to give is a gift, and the desire to receive is a blessing. And that just by expressing your authentic self you have already given an irreplaceable gift to those who are lucky enough to receive it.

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