Rev. Susan Eaton
Is It Really Better to Give Than to Receive?
Yesterday, my husband and I received a gift. It wasn’t money. It wasn’t a new gadget. It was the gift of time, ingenuity, sweat, and muscle from the men in my husband’s small group.
You see, we’re having our floors refinished. This is something we should have done before we moved into our fixer-upper six years ago. But honestly, with the myriad of projects facing us with this house and the floors looking “pretty good”, the thought of refinishing the floors never occurred to us.
And then we moved in with our dogs.
And our kids.
And that was that.
So, we’re having our floors refinished. And that means everything in our downstairs needs to go upstairs into the carpeted rooms. My husband has a bad back and is currently in physical therapy, so we needed help from others if we were going to get the heavy things moved. I thought about who might be able to help and chose to reach out to the guys in my husband’s small group. And boy did they come through! In less than two hours, everything was moved, including our upright grand piano that went onto the front porch.
I’ll admit, it felt a little awkward asking them to help us at first. But then I realized that we’re in community together. They love us, and we love them. And I know that when they need us, we’ll make ourselves available to them. There was no reason to be embarrassed or intimidated.
Many of us were taught that it’s better to give than to receive. It’s a nice thought, but one that can make us feel awkward when we’re in need. What if it’s better to give and receive rather than to focus on one over the other? What if the healthiest approach is to find balance in our giving and our receiving?
Jesus lived by this example of giving and receiving. Think about it. Jesus had
“no place to lay his head.” He owned nothing and was dependent upon the generosity of others. That posture of being dependent on OUR generosity allowed us (humanity) to partner with God in bringing about his purposes in the world.
Jesus could minister the way he did because people fed him, provided a roof over his head, and gave him a place to sleep. They even provided clothing for him! The tunic that the soldiers gambled over at his crucifixion was the type of clothing worn by the wealthy. It was certainly a gift from someone.
Jesus gave to us and poured himself out for us in the way only he could do. And he willingly and graciously received from us what we could offer to him. In that way, he honored us and allowed us to be a part of his good work.
Consider, too, how dependent the Apostle Paul was on the gifts of others. He poured himself out teaching and mentoring. But he also freely received what he needed from others, actively giving thanks and praise for the gifts of resources, time, and presence others provided and for the deep friendships that resulted from that partnership.
Jesus and Paul were willing to receive from others without shame or embarrassment. Neither of them was too proud. And their ability to receive from others fostered relationships, trust, and true community.
Again, the key is balance. If we always receive, we might become entitled and even possibly ungrateful, living from a posture of expectation that others should help us because they have more and we have less. We may begin to see others as obligated to help us.
If we always give but can’t receive from others, we might become proud. We might risk becoming a martyr: always giving of ourselves but never receiving, somehow becoming victims of our generosity. But one day, we will all find ourselves in need. And if we don’t see receiving as a blessing, too, we may feel embarrassed and ashamed. We may even push help away instead of gratefully receiving assistance from others.
In the classic book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “One easily overestimates the importance of one’s own acts and deeds, compared with what we become only through other people.”
Giving and receiving are gifts and practices that build community and foster love and trust among people. We can only become people of deep connection when we give and receive freely. If we give more weight to one over the other, we might prevent connection and trust from flourishing.
My heart is so full of gratitude for our friends who showed up to help us move all our stuff upstairs. (And remember, what goes up must come down. So, I’ll be reaching out again in the near future.) I know I won’t be able to adequately express my thanks for what they’ve done for us. But I’ll try because I want them to know what it means to us that they helped so quickly and easily.
And I think that’s the best result of living in this balance of giving and receiving: becoming a grateful person. Gratitude reminds us that we are not alone, and we never have to live that way. Gratitude keeps my eyes open for the people around me who might need my help and inspires me to give to others what I have been given.
This is just one way we become people who embody the holiness of Christ. May you be blessed by another’s generosity today. And may you be the blessing someone else needs.
What went out had to come back in. On the left is the crew that moved the piano out. And on the right is the crew that moved it back inside. So thankful for these guys!