We talk about “the gift of giving” in our society because people need to understand that giving to others and helping other people can benefit the giver as well. Once you experience the satisfaction and joy that comes with helping a person or organization in need, those feelings will often push you to give again and again until you find yourself looking for opportunities to help others.
When something good happens to you, like getting a raise at work, you may experience the desire to pass along a little of the good that came your way. Maybe you'll take the family on vacation, tip your waiter more than normal, or hand some cash to the guy standing at the end of the freeway exit.
But what about when your life takes a turn the other direction? Depending on your personality, you are likely to tell your friends, “No, I'm fine, thanks” when they ask if you need anything. Despite tough times, you may not allow your friends to treat you to lunch let alone help you in a bigger way. It might be your pride that keeps you from accepting help, or it might be the feeling that everyone has hard times and you can get through it without adding a burden to your friends.
That's perhaps a healthy (read: non-leech-like) attitude for a little while. No one wants a friend or a relative who is likely to ask for a loan at the least inconvenience. But some tough times are more than an inconvenience. Someone gets sick or loses their job, and it can quickly escalate to a huge problem. Then what do you do?
Keep in mind how you felt when you were able to do something nice for someone – treat a friend to lunch, give or loan someone the money to fix their car, give a friend a gift card so they can have a little fun in the midst of hard times. It felt good, didn't it, like you'd made a small difference in the life of someone you cared about.
That's the feeling you need to remember when someone offers to do something nice for you. That person is going to feel a little bit of joy and satisfaction when you accept their gift. If you say no, no, and no again, you're denying them the good feeling of helping someone else. It may be hard – it probably will be hard – but as the arguments come to mind (and as they pass over your lips at first), you need to stop and take a breath, and smile, and say, “Thank you.”
And this is where receiving helps you grow.
Now you know what it feels like. Now you know how hard it is to smile and say thank you and accept the gift, no matter how big or small. Remember that feeling.
Because your life is going to turn around. You're going to be able to start giving again, helping out a friend, treating someone to lunch, overtipping a single mom waitress. And it's important that you learn to give with as much humility as you had to have to receive. You need to know how hard it can be to accept other people's generosity so that you can give with an attitude that helps people accept your gifts.
Life is cyclical. The good times come and go. The bad times come and go. John and I have been in both places, and in all the places in between. We've had opportunities and circumstances that have allowed us to be enormously generous, and we have learned to love those times. It is so fun to help people once you get started! We've also had opportunities and circumstances where we had to take a deep breath, smile, and say thank you to other people's enormous generosity, even though it was gut-wrenchingly difficult and we really wanted to say no.
Being on the receiving end of help is difficult. There are some people we will never be able to pay back. All we can do is promise everyone that we will pay it forward. But our circumstances have taught us once again how we need to act when we can start giving again. And we've begun to understand what Jesus meant when he said about giving, Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
Giving in humility makes receiving in humility easier. And both will help you grow into a better person.