It’s probably easier to give than to receive, but we can’t give what we haven’t already received. How can someone love, when they don’t know what love is? Are you open to receiving love?
It was awkward. Plain embarrassing. It was so uncomfortable that they wanted to run from this gift-giving.
They had made some foolish mistakes that hurt people very close to them. How could they ever repay? This was the only family they had ever known, and they wanted to have a relationship with them.
For much of their life, they had clothed themselves with shame and guilt. They had truly messed up, and all they could focus on now was their failings.
How could anyone love them? They couldn’t even love themselves. They despised themselves.
But hands were reaching out to them with gifts. Clothes, jewelry, a party. All in their honor.
They quickly clasped their hands and arms over their chest.
‘Protect, keep safe, don’t let them in. I won’t receive a gift I don’t deserve, a gift I haven’t worked for.’
The gift giver walked away saddened.
Limiting the love
How much love can you handle? That’s a serious question, by the way.
What’s it like to be told you are loved? To have someone say ‘I love you.’
It’s hard at times to receive. Unconditional, no strings attached, unearned, love.
You see, when we unclasp our protective arms to receive a gift, we expose the heart. Try it. Stretch your arms out and see how open you are.
No, we want to limit the love. To not feel embarrassed by the welcome. We want to be in control.
‘Who am I to receive this expansive gift?’
Once, when I was pastoring, I wrote on my whiteboard these words.
‘If you knew me, would you still love me?’
True love knows all and still chases you down.
Receiving always precedes giving
Both giving and receiving are beautiful. It is more blessed to give than to receive—that’s true.
But for needy adults, who in this respect are like sick infants, something of value must be received before anything of value can be given.
Receiving always precedes giving. And that never changes.
We never outgrow our need to receive. It’s a beautiful thing to witness a humility that receives. Larry Crabb Shattered Dreams
From the very first breath we take as babes, we are receivers. We take in a breath, and we give back a scream. Parents are delighted.
We receive. We give. Breathe in, breathe out.
In conversations, I am often aware that the other wants to give something they haven’t first received.
They want to be the best husband, wife, parent, friend but have not received this into themselves. They haven’t seen it modeled to them. So they stumble in the giving.
They want to receive and need others to give.
There’s a party going on, and you’re invited.
The most stunning and staggering truth God has given to me in His Word can be summed up, perhaps a bit simplistically but I hope not irrelevantly, in two short sentences. One, God is a party happening. Two, I’m invited to the party. Larry Crabb – Real Church
As I walked up the dusty track, I saw a man running towards me. Arms wide open and cloak throwing itself to the wind. He was hurling himself towards me. It was undignified for such a nobleman as this to be this over-exuberant.
He was shouting my name, but all I felt was shame. I had robbed him. Taken from his wealth and thrown it away.
But here he was shouting my name. He knew my full name, my heritage, by inglorious history.
He reached out with his wide-open arms and wrapped them around me.
I held my hands close in. I wanted a barrier to this love. He was too close, too near. I had to be in control.
He shouted behind him to crank up the music, get the best food laid out. Find some new clothes and shoes to replace my rags.
There was a party going on, and I was invited. In fact, I was the guest of honor and that I would never have to leave.
I was home. Luke 15:11-32
Slowly I lowered my arms and allowed love to trickle into the stoniness of my pain.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean;
I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekial 36:25, 26
To receive an embrace
An embrace involves always a double movement of opening and closing.
I open my arms to create space in myself for the other.
The open arms are a sign of discontent at being myself only and of desire to include the other.
They are an invitation to the others to come in and feel at home with me, to belong to me.
In an embrace I also close my arms around the others – not tightly, so as to crush and assimilate them forcefully into myself, for that would not be an embrace but a concealed power-act of exclusion; but gently, so as to tell them that I do not want to be without them in their otherness.
I want them in their openness.
I want them to remain independent and true to their genuine selves, to maintain their identity and as such become part of me so that they can enrich me with what they have and I do not.
Judith M Gundry-Volf, Miroslav Volf. A spacious heart: essays on identity and belonging.
Learning to receive
We don’t like to be in need. To be dependant on someone else. Yet, we were always meant to be interconnected in such a way that was mutually beneficial.
Not independent, dependant, or codependent, but interdependent.
We receive we give. We give we receive.
Learning to receive is an act of war against arrogance and self-dependence.
None of us are so self-contained that we don’t have need of the other.
We hate being vulnerable to show our neediness and those weak spots we try to hide.
Learning to receive is a millimeter by millimeter step process of allowing safe people to give us something we can’t find within ourselves.
It’s Christmas, crucifixion, and resurrection all rolled up into one.
To receive is a mystery.
Allow yourself to receive. You’ll be ok.
Quotes to consider
- Grace is always a humiliation for the ego. Richard Rohr Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps
- It is so difficult to admit to ourselves and others that we can’t control everything. Only when we name the ways we are powerless do we create space for God to step in. Richard Rohr
- The truth is we don’t much like being dependent. We don’t enjoy admitting how desperately we long for someone’s kindness and involvement. It’s so humbling. Larry Crabb
- When I hear Jesus tell me to be like an infant, I become more aware of how needy I am than of how selfish I am. And then, immediately, I realize how proud I am. I can’t get away from the fact of my depravity, and I can see it as my arrogant refusal to trust. Larry Crabb
- The first commandment of fallen thinking: Trust no one and you shall live. The second is like it: To make life work, trust only yourself and what you can control. Larry Crabb
- Others will not clearly see our deepest needs unless we choose to make them known. The seed of self-protection is in the infant; in adults, it’s a full-grown weed. Larry Crabb
Questions to answer
- Your very first act as a human was to receive air into your lungs. Can you give something that you genuinely haven’t received first?
- How would you respond if some gave you something way beyond what you think you deserved?
- What self-protective measures do you use to stop receiving a love you can’t control?