Most of us are not very good at receiving compliments. A friend had just delivered a fine sermon, so I gave him a heartfelt compliment. His deflective, “humble” response was to give all credit to God. I replied, “I could swear I saw your lips moving!”
Perhaps even more striking is our inability to be gracious recipients of other people’s generosity. It is deeply ingrained in us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Albert Einstein reinforces this notion: “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.”
Clearly the deck is stacked in favour of the generous giver.
E. G. Link identifies three causes of “this graceless receiving malady” in his blog post “The Grace of Receiving:”
1. Our subtle form of pride. When we have more than enough, we may find it very difficult to receive a gift. The more we own, the more we may feel it beneath us to accept a gift from others.
For example, I often pick up the tab when enjoying an outing with a person who I assume is much wealthier than me; the reaction of unequivocal surprise is worth the gesture. However, don’t be shocked if your generosity is met with sheer indignation, as if to say, “How dare you? I am not a charity case.”
2. Our subtle form of legalism. How many times have you offered to repay generosity? Insisting, “I’ll buy you lunch next time,” is not really generosity, but is simply reciprocating payments, or taking turns to pay. At other times, your gift may be refused with a severe scolding, such as, “You shouldn’t have,” “I can’t accept that,” or, after sharing a ride, you offer to pay for gas and the dollar bills come flying back at you. In such cases, both the giver and intended receiver experience no blessing at all.
3. A subtle form of ingratitude. This includes such thoughts as, “I don’t deserve this gift,” or, “Others need this more than I do.” Perhaps we should focus less on the gift and more on the generous attitude of the giver.
In my work with Mennonite Foundation of Canada, I frequently hear about the gift that went completely unacknowledged by the recipient. A true gift is given unconditionally and with no strings attached. But every gift deserves at least the courtesy of a simple thank you.
An additional cause that could be added is a subtle form of entitlement. People who have enjoyed the gifts of others as a way of life may eventually live with a sense of prerogative. Volunteers who work in food banks will attest that on occasion they deal with very ungrateful recipients, as if it is their perceived right to demand very specific products.
How do we become gracious receivers, enhancing the blessing for the giver? Once again, we can learn from Jesus and his overwhelming appreciation and endorsement when given an outrageous gift of perfume by a woman (Mark 14). People around him resisted the gift on his behalf, but Jesus defended her actions. Receiving graciously blesses the giver.
Yes, there is joy and much reward in giving, but let’s also exercise the grace of receiving so that the grace of giving will flourish. After all, one helps the other to thrive.
Arnie Friesen is a Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC) consultant in the Abbotsford, B.C., office. MFC facilitates the gifting process. Generous clients are able to give anonymously to charities of their choice so they have no need to worry about responses.