You would think everyone likes to receive gifts or compliments or acts of kindness, but some of us don’t. When someone offers me a gift, I ask myself, “Why are they doing this?” or “What do they want from me? Instead of being excited, I immediately begin devising a way to do something equal or better in return to lessen my anxiety and suspicion. In my mind, people are not benevolent without some ulterior motive.
Not to excuse my disposition on receiving, but I grew up feeling it necessary to not trust someone’s open hand. On August 15, 1996, I was preparing to leave home, for my first year of college. It was also my eighteenth birthday. As I sat in the backseat of my mother’s blue, 1995 Geo Prizm, my father approached and through the open window handed me a sealed, white envelope. For a moment, I had the audacity to assume there was a gift inside, since it was my birthday, or perhaps because I was the first of his children to attend college. Instead, I found a bill, written on notebook paper, for use of the car that summer. Unbeknownst to me, I had been accruing this bill that was now due for immediate payment on the day I was leaving for college, also my eighteenth birthday. I recall a few of the line items–an oil change, a tire rotation–tasks that, because I had not helped with, I was now being billed for. I did not intend to not help. Sometimes I was unware the maintenance was being done and yes, other times I was being my introverted, reclusive self. I understand that my father was trying to teach me a lesson, but the lesson was lacking in love so it just fell to the ground as loveless lessons tend to do.
As I scanned the paper, lightning set fire to my soul then I was numb. I’m not sure why I expected the envelope might contain a gift. My father had always been a coarse man, but for some reason, I thought that this day, the day I was leaving for college, my eighteenth birthday, might finally cause him to be proud of me. Instead, as always, the giving of use of his car, had come with conditions like all the other gifts he had given.
The total bill was a little less than $200. I paid my debtor. In return, he offered me a silver dollar with my birth year as a gift for my birthday. Unfortunately, I had not been disciplined with my summer earnings so after payment, I was only left with around $20. I made sure he did not know this. I did not want him to see how he had bruised me again. I imagine he knew anyway; he’s that kind of man.
As we travelled the three hours to the college I had chosen, I cried. The wind and heat from the open window seared the salty tears into my cheeks. I did not understand why he had waited until the day I was leaving for college to present this bill. I did not understand why he had not accompanied us on this significant journey. I did not understand him. I was tired of trying to win his approval. At college, I thought, I would finally be free of his rule, but I was not. You see, the experiences with him had blemished my capacity to receive. Anytime someone presented a gift or a compliment or love, I would reject it.
Person: Percevial, that’s a nice shirt.
Me: Oh, it was only $7.00.
Person: Well it’s a nice shirt, and it looks good on you.
Me: I guess.
You see my mention of the cost was to alert the giver of the compliment that the shirt nor the wearer was worthy of attention or admiration. I didn’t want to take the chance that someone would give me something, not even a compliment, because I would then be left in a position of owing them something.
Recently, it became clear that my attitude about receiving, though explicable, is toxic. We are supposed to freely give, AND we are supposed to freely receive. No matter how rich or poor, at times you should be a giver and at times you should be a receiver. We must strive to keep a balance. Otherwise, the affluent begin to bear a burden that is not entirely theirs and the less fortunate begin to feel entitled to what does not belong to them. Even if we have no finances, we always have our time, our talent and our words to give.
Because I’ve not properly received, many of my givers have been left devoid of the joyous feeling that should be part of giving. This has often caused them to be regretful and hesitant in any future benevolence towards me. I have also left myself devoid of the joyous feeling that is part of receiving–the whole matter becomes a tragic event instead of a beautiful exchange.
So now let me tell you how to receive. Gratefully. Say thank you. Open the gift passionately. Swallow the compliment favorably. Receive whatever it is gratefully. Yes, it’s that simple. I considered including a list of steps on how to receive but that seemed ridiculous and entirely too complicated. We’ve got too many lists; often times after completing all the steps, we’ve gotten nowhere. Just cut to the chase and let’s take from the wisdom of an elder,
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
Dr. Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now
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