On Receiving Gifts

IMG_1803

The summer before my senior year of high school I joined my church youth group in traveling the globe to Cameroon, Africa. It was a dream come true for a girl who had envisioned spending the rest of her days on the African plane in a crudely constructed, thatched roof hut with a dirt floor. As I traveled by bus, plane, taxi, and car to reach our final destination my excitement grew and grew. I just knew that I had things to offer these people, talents to use, hope to bring, ideas to share.

And all the while we were there, I did my best to do just that, to give and give and give. And though the trip was a memorable, amazing, life-changing one, the thing that sticks out to me the most is how prideful I was. Here I was, thinking I was the answer to these people’s needs, that I was basically their savior. While at the same time, I refused to receive any help directed at me. I remember one instance where a boy on our team bought me some chocolate. I liked the boy, and I liked chocolate, but I wasn’t about to be in debt to him. So I forced him to take back the money. The cost of the chocolate? In our currency: 10 cents. I didn’t know how to graciously receive even the smallest of gifts.

Once while on vacation with my soon-to-be in-laws, I secretly stole away from a restaurant table to pay for everyone’s meal. Highly generous of me, don’t ya think? Well I thought that was all I was being. In reality, I was embarrassed that they had spent so much money on me already that I wasn’t about to let them do it again. Or at least, I was going to start paying them back for all they had done for me. The irony of that situation was that I over-drafted my bank account on accident and had to call my parents to bail me out. I didn’t know how to properly express gratitude.

In my world, you worked for things you wanted, you deserved what you earned, and you did it on your own. And if someone tried to help you out, you thanked them politely and then did your dead-level best to pay it back, and, if possible, with interest – not to be nice, but to be even. I never wanted to be in anyone’s debt.

A lot of that comes from being American. We’re an individualistic society, seeking to stand out in the crowd, to owe no man anything except to stay out of his driveway. But most of it stems from my heart that seeks to be even with God, to not owe him anything, or even need anything from him. One of the first things that caused me to realize this about myself was when I didn’t get something I expected from God. And it really upset me. Because when you have the mentality that you can be even with God, you begin to think that he owes you things.

He’s been revising my concept of gifts and ministry ever since. Not receiving gifts from others was an indication of a deeper issue, an issue of not understanding grace and God’s overwhelming gift to me. That you can’t pay it back. That you’re not meant to. That it’s offensive to The Giver to do so. That grace can’t be earned. And while I mentally assented to all of the above, I practiced a whole different theology, one which set me up as the one upon whose merit grace was given or withheld.

But once God began exposing my pride, my misunderstanding of grace, my inconsistent relationship between theology and practice, and my unbiblical aversion to community living, the Spirit grew me in humility and love. Humility to receive, because that is the foundation of our Christian faith. And love to pour out, because of what has been poured out on me. Not pouring out in an effort at keeping up, but in super-natural response to the spilling of the Spirit’s love within.

A while back I shared with a friend how much I struggle with this, with receiving graciously and with gratitude, and she kindly prayed for me and encouraged me. Several months later she and her husband excitedly handed us a check, my throat tightened, and I began to wince a bit. Daniel and I peeked at the amount later on down the road, and I gasped: $1,000. There was no way we could pay that back. At church that Sunday I hugged them and said nothing sensible or profound. My friend simply smiled {a bit mischievously, I might add} and said, “I prayed a lot about what we talked about a few months back, and my husband and I decided we wanted to help you grow in that area, in receiving things well.” I gulped and laughed and cried and said, “Thank you”, a little shakily but with meaning.

God apparently wasn’t done teaching me, and in the 6 months that followed we received $500 here, $500 there. Another $400 here and a completely solid car there. Items we listed sold and people brought us meals. When I was sick with migraines my in-laws and parents took care of me and invested in my baby girl. When it came time to move, 3 or 4 different people decided they wanted to off-set the cost of our move . . . and we had an over abundance with which to make the transition. Family and friends loaded our truck, helped us clean our home, watched our daughter, packed us snacks for the road, prayed with us, hugged us tight, and made us feel like the most loved people alive. All without expecting anything in return.

When our pastor approached us with the idea of giving us his car, we initially refused. It was his car, the one he had prayed for and invested a lot of money in. But we were in need of a car, we had been praying for one, and it felt wrong to argue with our pastor what the Spirit did or did not tell him to do. So we accepted his extravagant gift with gratefulness, without trying to pay him back.

I’ve found that I tend to disagree with the way God provides for the things I’ve requested. “Couldn’t you make it so that I could earn it, or at least deserve it, God?”, I’ll usually think.

But it’s beginning to sink in. We’re not meant to save ourselves. God alone does that. We’re not meant to fend for ourselves. God does that through his body, the church. We’re not meant to live in isolation. We need the fellowship of the saints, each other. Even God himself dwells in community, the Trinity. And it’s in this community that we learn how to live for the people around us, looking “every man also on the things of others” {Phil. 2:4}.

As we understand that we don’t deserve any good thing, that breath itself is a gift from God, that we’ve been blessed immeasurably despite not deserving it, that we aren’t the ultimate answer/savior to people’s problems, but that we’re also called to meet other’s needs as we have the ability, giving and receiving become a whole lot more natural and beautiful.

Expectations, IOU’s, embarrassment, and pride begin to fall away, and love and gratitude take their place.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.

Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man” {Psalm 66}.

Linking up to Forever Faithful for Thankful Thursdays

and The Wiegands

{a link up open to anyone wanting to share what they are thankful for every Thursday}

Advertisements

7 comments

  1. Del Dee Hindman · · Reply

    This is the best thing you have ever written. Thank you for “giving” me the blessing of reading your thoughts and growth in Him. Love you sis!

    1. I’ll be honest, I wrote this right before falling asleep, and when I woke, I had this terrible feeling that I published a mistake . . . fear is embedded deep inside me, but God is working it out . . . But when I read your sweet comment, I dismissed the thought and was so grateful for your encouragement. Thank you!! Love you too 🙂

  2. Michele Walsh · · Reply

    I really needed this tonight…needed to be reminded of His grace and to just accept it. thanks!

    1. That’s grace to me knowing that it encouraged you! Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  3. Susanna, I always thought I’d be living in a mud hut in Africa, too!! Haha.

    But, on to the meat of your post, thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been struggling with these thoughts in a different way recently, wanting to just get somewhere and know that God and I were okay. You know? Like, I’m where I’m supposed to be, and now I can stop working and just relax with Him. But, that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Life, this Christian thing, is a constant balance and constant work between receiving and pouring out, like you said. We never quite get there, which is good, because if we did we’d lost all the beauty of the struggle. And, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve also struggled in the last year with accepting things from people.

    Thanks for the beautiful reminder! Honestly, committing ourselves to receive graciously I think frees us up to give even more graciously. The more we allow ourselves to be blessed, the more we are ready to bless.

    Love you!

    1. So so true! Thank you for those thoughts. We’re such fickle people aren’t we? If we’re not thinking we can get even, we’re thinking that we can’t be accepted. Glad we have a patient Father who doesn’t chide us but kindly teaches us.

      Maybe we can move to Africa together someday 😉

  4. […] of summer coincided with some breathing room in Dr. Hub’s residency schedule so we drove our special gift of a car outside city limits this past weekend to where the green grass meets the blue sky border. […]

So whatcha thinkin'?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: