“Is is better to give than to receive.” I remember my mom telling me this from the time I was very young. The message she was trying to get across to me was that I should not be as concerned in any given circumstance about what I was getting, as what I was contributing. Giving—of yourself, your time, your talents, your energy—this was the most important thing you could do. Nothing wrong with that I suppose.
But I wonder if we are missing something when we talk only about giving and never about receiving. What does it mean to be a gracious receiver?
Think about the last time someone complimented you. Did you reply with a simple thank-you? Or did you stammer, as I often do, wondering how to accept the compliment and not sound arrogant?
And what about gifts? I just had a birthday and a common question in our family is, “what do you want?” Now I know that they are just trying to prevent the awkward ‘I didn’t really need another white shirt’ moment. But it seems to me that much of our gift giving and receiving these days is driven not by the grace of the giver, but by the desires of the receiver.
Think about it for a minute. Fifty or so years ago people brought gifts to weddings that were thoughtful, creative, and often had some meaning attached that reflected the well-wishes of the giver. Now we go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, look at a list, choose something not already purchased that fits our budget, wrap it up, and its all set. Its not that I don’t think about it or care. Its just that there is something so mechanical about it all. I understand that now there are baby registries too. Are Christmas registries next?
Worse yet, this general mindset continues to permeate deeper into the fabric of our lives. People go to fertility or adoption clinics with particular characteristics of their future child in mind. But children are a gift that God gives us – a gift we should receive gratefully regardless of characteristics like gender, health, etc.
And then there is worship. Instead of going to gratefully receive whatever God has planned for the day, we go with our demands, evaluating the service to see if our desires have been met. I love the way our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters demonstrate receiving gifts in their celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). They don’t grab the bread and wine out of a tray. They receive the elements with open hands from the priest. God offers us himself and we receive the grace offered with gratitude. Indeed.
Of course the position of recipient is one of humility and lack of control – not exactly prevalent dispositions in American culture. But these are the dispositions of those who wish to receive the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus. We don’t receive salvation on our terms. We receive salvation on God’s terms.
So maybe learning about grace has something to do with learning about being a good receiver, as much as being a good giver.