How do you feel when you give with absolutely no expectation of something in return? How do you feel when you know you lifted someone’s spirits? How do you feel when your actions inspire hope?
Giving money, time, love, and anything else another being needs makes us feel good. Many of us know this from experience and we’ve been taught this in a variety of places… religion, school, family, etc. There’s also been research to prove it… The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson documents findings of extensive research on the subject.
But today I’m not going to write about how great it is to give… today I’m writing about how we respond when we receive. Hmmm… How does receiving make you feel? Does receiving make you uncomfortable? How about vulnerable?
I love to give… it makes me feel good. But being on the other end, being the receiver of generosity, has often made me feel uncomfortable. Instead of being genuinely touched and appreciative of generosity I’ve found myself thinking… “What do I owe back?”, “What does this person want from me?”, “What can I do for them so I don’t have a debt?”.
Throughout my life I observed many others responding to generosity the same way as me, and found valor in my approach… I am blessed with an abundance of resources and love… if I receive I should certainly give back as much or more… I’m not in need of anything!
Last summer I had an experience that that changed my perspective…
My family and I were camping at Long Point Provincial Park on the north coast of Lake Erie. It was a beautiful day… one of those days with blue sky, the perfect temperature, and just enough breeze to generate waves. My 8-year-old son, Daniel, was super excited to play in the waves with a new boogie board that I had promised him we’d purchase on the way to the beach.
I didn’t want to have much money at the beach and brought exactly $20, no more. When we walked into the store Daniel immediately saw a boogie board with a big shark… he had his heart set on it and was so excited! The price tag was missing, so I went to the counter to ask… it was $19.98 before tax… oh no! I told Daniel that we didn’t have enough money and that we’d have to come back later. Daniel was sad, but understood and sadly walked over to put the boogie board back…
As Daniel walked toward the boogie board rack, I heard a man say “I’ll pay for the tax, you don’t need to come back, let’s get the boy the board.” My first reaction was no, but the man was insistent… he really wanted to do something nice… maybe he was remembering being 8 and anticipating a day of playing in the waves… Whatever the reason, I could tell that making sure Daniel got the boogie board meant something to him.
Instead of insisting on no, I was really thankful and gladly accepted the generosity. It felt good to have someone do something nice for me and Daniel, and the man felt good. It was a good lesson to Daniel about how great people really are and the love that we have in our hearts for each other.
As we walked away I thought about it… it came up in my mind at other points during the day… could it be that an essential part of serving and giving to the world is also graciously receiving what is given to us? Could it be that if we don’t allow others to give and serve we are being selfish… we aren’t allowing others the ability to feel wonderful through service and giving? I learned a key lesson that day… there is abundance, love, and good-will everywhere… it is our nature… and I need to take great joy in letting it freely flow!
As we enter the holiday season in many parts of the world let’s think about not only giving, but receiving. We receive so much from each other in so many ways… gifts, time together, love… there are countless more. Let’s open ourselves to receiving joyously and thankfully, and give others the gift of knowing how much their generosity touches our hearts!