When You Find Yourself On the Receiving End



This is my crazy month at the back of the food pantry with our big annual food drive. Things are also getting busy in the front of the pantry with clients. With oil prices plummeting and jobs disappearing, I heard a few statements like this last week: “I’ve never done this before”…”I’ve never lost a job, and now I wonder if I’ll ever get one again in my 60’s”…”I’ve never been in a food pantry”…and from a 16 year old girl of a single Mom, “It’s nice not to worry if I’ll get to eat dinner for a few days. This is awesome.”

We talk a lot about giving, but we don’t talk as much about receiving. From my observations and personal experience, I believe these 2 things go hand in hand.

There are many reasons people give. They give to follow religious rules. They give to be seen as givers. They give because it is expected of them. They give because they feel guilty. And then there are those who give because it is their nature. It is like breathing. They give as if they have received something in such bounty that it is constantly spilling over their edges.

In the nonprofit world of children’s homes, churches, and food pantries, I have watched and participated in this dance of giver and receiver for decades. And I have seen that the most gracious receivers are often those who have been the most generous givers – givers of whatever they have to give, be it money, food, and clothing, or kindness, grace, and hugs. They walk into any given space and view the humanity around them with the humble knowing that they are deeply connected, that had they walked the same path as another, they would be in the same leaky boat or sinking even faster. Sometimes it’s because they have actually been in that boat. Other times, they simply know themselves well enough to be compassionate when dealing with human weakness.

So when their number is up, when their job vanishes, when they get sick, when they stumble into moral failure, they are not shocked and dismayed. They have lived their lives knowing – there by the grace of God go I… When they suddenly find themselves in their own tough spot, they are able to receive the hand of grace from another with genuine humility. They receive from a place of God-given-self-love that blesses the giver as much or more as the giver is blessing them.

Brené Brown in Rising Strong: “I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” When we receive from a place of worthiness, we are fun to give to!

The other kinds of receiving are heart-wrenching to watch – the receiving that comes doused with guilt, anger, or pride. These poor souls still have to take the food because they are hungry or the jacket because they are cold, but they resent the giver as much as they resent the circumstances that led them there.

The gifts that are bestowed upon them feel like burdens instead of blessings, and the givers are challenged to find joy in such a process. Or, even worse, they cannot receive gifts at all and choose instead to wallow in unnecessary misery. Receiving a gift requires space to absorb it.

If our heart is completely full or ourselves – our pride, our fear, our anger – there is no room for gifts.

The hope of my heart is to learn to be as gracious in receiving as I am in giving. For I have received grace and mercy that is unexplainable – from God, from family, from friends. It has reached into the deepest crevices of my heart, and I am learning to soak it in like a sponge. My hope is that I will be able to draw deeply from the grace my heart has stored up in order to give more deeply to whoever comes my way.

Like it or not, if any of us live a long life on this earth, we will be receivers in the end. From what I have witnessed, old age is a grand distiller. It whittles away at us until we are left with the essence, the core of who we are. We can become exaggerated version of our younger personalities, and that can be ugly or radiant.

Time will blow away the chaff and leave the grain. What is my grain? What is the kernel at the heart of things? I hope to purposely practice authentic, joyful giving and receiving so that authenticity is what will be left in the end.

I am a big giver (keep reading). That is the truth, and yet it tells you little about me. There have been times when I have given spontaneously from a place of goodness and mercy. But do not be deceived, my friend. I am often a people pleaser. My striving to make others happy comes from a place of fear and insecurity. When I am giving from that place, it is a sick and manipulative effort. And although it might have the appearance of generosity, it is in fact a way of taking from others what I need. Tricky, huh?

As I have stumbled through this life, with each fall and each recovery, I have relinquished a little bit of that need to please. I have accepted more of God’s grace and mercy, and love has slipped in through the cracks and settled in deep places. My brokenness has led to my healing, and from my healing, I can now offer healing to others. When I give from that real place, that raw place, I also grow in my ability to receive well. And receiving well is a gift back to the giver – my thank you gift.

We often talk of downward cycles – addiction, abuse, dependence, etc… In contrast, authentic giving and receiving is an upward cycle. The way one feeds into the other is a thing of astonishing beauty.


The past couple years have been a particular season of receiving from God and others – one season of many. It challenged my pride, but love won and my heart opened. Now I can give from a place of deeper understanding and vulnerability. I pray that I will file away this receiving experience and find even greater joy and gratitude next time I am in need of rescue. This is the deep community we all silently long for. And we can have it!

I’d love to hear from you – do you find it hard to receive? And how are you challenged as a giver?

Talent Trading

FullSizeRender (4)

In hopes of finding parenting wisdom and guidance last night, I sat to read a chapter in Frederick Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark entitled “Adolescence and the Stewardship of Pain”.  Oh, how you get so deep under my skin, Mr. Buechner!  I thought this would be a nice little read to help me help my son, but no – it was all about me in my perpetual adolescence.  So true!  I want to be a big girl, I do.

The chapter is so dog-eared and underlined that I am unsure how to distill it for a little blog entry.  I will try because it held such meaning for me, but I’m hesitant.  He takes exactly the number of words needed to make his point, so to pull out sentences borders on disrespect.  My best recommendation is to stop reading this entry, order the book, and just read it for yourself.

If you are still here, the parable he uses to make his point is the 3 servants left with talents as their master travels.  Mr. Buechner reminds us that sometimes the “talent” we are given is pain – pain that can make us more or less human depending on our handling of it.  At the end of the story, the worthless servant who loses his measly little talent is the one who buried it out of fear. NO!!! My life is on full display right there in the book of Matthew. Who’s the adolescent now?

When pain is buried, it is wasted. It is left to rot instead of being used for glory – for the glory of human connection. We are called to be traders of our talents, whatever talents we are given. “To trade is to give of what it is that we have in return for what it is that we need, and what we have is essentially what we are, and what we need is essentially each other. The good and faithful servants were not life-buriers. They were life-traders. They did not close themselves off in fear, but opened themselves up in risk and hope.”

Risk and hope have not been prominent character traits in my first 43 years, but hopefully I have time to change courses. Maybe I will write my words and sing my songs instead of burying them.  Glory be!  I will become a life-trader, a trouble-sharer, a joy-toker, and hopefully an occasional pain-reliever.  If you are reading this, you are probably already one of my fellow-traders, and for you, I am deeply grateful.  Please forgive me for the times I have withheld my little talents, whether they be my pain or my unique giftedness (and we all have that). “The buried life is itself darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth and the one who casts us into it is no one other than ourselves.” I have lived that hell on earth, and God rescued me in His unending mercy.  I never want to cast myself in that pit again.