I’m a giver by nature, and I love it. I’ll make a meal for a family who just had a baby or donate to a food bank or find that perfect birthday gift or offer a professional service for free. It comes easily to me to share with others, as I know it does to many of my own generous family and friends. Why do we give so freely?
Well, for one, it makes us feel great. Experiencing the joy of giving is a real thing, right down to the biological level at which we experience something psychologists call a “helper’s high.” Similar to a runner’s high, this kind of feeling activates the same areas of the brain that other pleasurable activities do and produces a high of sorts.
Secondly, giving helps to nurture gratitude and humility. Remembering to be thankful for what we have and understanding where it comes from are also key reasons why givers give so much of themselves, of their time, and if they can, of their own treasures.
Giving I can do. Receiving is a whole other story.
My knee-jerk reaction to anyone making even a small attempt to give me anything is to refuse. I can't even accept a simple compliment and instead always point off why its off base because of my own imperfections
“Your hair looks great today,” they tell me. I say it must be a good day because my hair never cooperates.
“You have a beautiful home,” they say. Thank you, but our kitchen is so outdated.
“How can I help you?” they ask. Inwardly, I’d love help with the kids, the house, anything. But I say I’m fine and refuse help.
The act of giving requires a receiver and vice versa. By refusing to be a receiver, I am denying the giver the joy of giving and ultimately rejecting the love they have chosen to show me. Yet, there is a quiet beauty in learning to become a receiver. I very much want to learn how to be a good receiver but it requires going deeper into the heart, into uncomfortable areas I’d rather stow away for another time.
I’ve discovered there’s a reason I have a really hard time being a reciever: Being on the other end of receiving something means I have to be vulnerable. I have to acknowledge I need help. Or I have to acknowledge that I’m loved, even with all my faults. I have to tear down another one of my carefully constructed barriers to intimacy, and that is, frankly, uncomfortable to do.
I have to answer this question every time: Am I good enough to receive what someone wants to give me?
The answer for me—the answer for you—is a resounding yes. On the more challenging days, that’s not the answer I give. And that’s OK. But intentionally pausing for just a second when given the opportunity to become a receiver can help me to answer that question correctly and be a gracious recipient of a giver’s love.
Here are the lessons I am learning on my journey to becoming a gracious receiver:
01. It’s OK to accept a gift, a compliment, an offer of help, or a loving gesture.
By accepting a gift, it does not mean I’m weak. It means that I am happy to venture into a space and time where the smallest hint of intimacy between humans is possible, between the giver and the receiver.
02. Giving is not the only act that can nurture humility—receiving can be an excellent avenue to grow in graciousness and humility.
Pride takes a backseat when a receiver graciously accepts a gift, humbling herself and submitting to the giver. Pride is a terrible vice, the root of many things in our lives that are harmful to us and the ones we love. But with a strong sense of humility present, pride becomes much less a part of our lives.
03. Vulnerability is scary but it’s also wonderful.
To me, vulnerability means stripping away my pretty photos on social media and showing the world my glaring faults. Who wants that? But it is incredibly freeing to open oneself up, even if just for a moment, to someone else and to let them inside that artificially created world so they can know the real us. What does this have to do with gift-giving? If a friend offers to babysit or if a kind stranger in your neighborhood wants to bring you dinner one night after you just had a baby, they are going to probably see the mess that is your house. Be vulnerable in that moment and just drop the facade. See, feels better already, right?
04. Perfection is overrated.
Chances are, when someone pays you a compliment on your latest shoe purchase, she truly thinks your shoes are awesome and isn’t surreptitiously demanding you tell them every detail about when you gave up and let your kids eat ice cream for dinner. But smiling back, saying thank you, and being gracious can help stop that inner voice screaming that while your shoes are awesome, the dress is from your high school days and you could really use a shopping trip. Who cares? Smile, say thank, and get over the idea that perfection is the only acceptable way of life.
Practice smiling when you receive a compliment. Practice saying, “yes, please come over to my messy house for coffee so we can chat” when someone asks you how they can help. Practice kicking pride to the curb and developing true humility. And stop questioning how much you deserve to become a receiver of love from another person. I do deserve it, and so do you.