It is not an accident that the words "giving” and "giver” are related to the word "gift.” In each instance, the act, if genuine, is done out of a sense of openness and generosity –not because it is earned or obliged.
Some poignant examples of such giving come to my mind, such as being handed a twoonie by a perfect stranger when I found myself short of change at a parking meter, or when a whole assortment of people (some of whom I hardly knew) took care of me after a recent accident. My parents’ generosity, but one example of this, touched me enough to move me to become closer to them.
As one who has been cautious about receiving gifts from others –fearful that their words or actions were really meant to make me beholden to or used by them– it has taken some effort on my part to become a better receiver of the giving of others.
In some ways it is easier to be the giver, to make an effort to please others and "make” them happy. I like being appreciated and valued by others, and so giving can come easily. Another advantage of giving, I’ve discovered, is that one can be less vulnerable. A significant gift came from a friend one day when she pointed out that by being such a good listener I was simultaneously poor at sharing much about myself. She correctly assessed that I was hiding behind my gift of asking good questions.
As is evident in this article, I have discovered that giving to others can be meaningful to them when I not only try to serve them, but I also share of myself.
I have found this kind of gift to be gracious, and it opens the door for others to give of themselves. When I am open, others are more likely to feel secure enough to give.
Of course there are those who seem to behave as though they believe they deserve to be served, taken care of, or pampered. Some will take advantage of the giving nature of others and fail to give to anyone (except as a way of getting what they want). Such individuals have surely been deeply wounded by the woundedness of others. They have not yet discovered the pure joy of giving, just because one is moved to do so.
At the other end of this extreme is the difficulty experienced by others in giving to me if I am not also a good receiver of their generosity, thoughtfulness or openness. I cringe inside every time I think of a time in my early teens that I rejected the gift of a book from my well-meaning but out-of-touch grandmother. I was not interested in any book about Ferris-wheels! So ungrateful was I that my parents were unable to persuade me to write her a thank-you card. The awkwardness this created for them was obvious on their faces.
At about the same age I remember my father accepting a Christmas gift from me that, while useable, was not at all what he had wished for. He was very gracious in the way he received that gift.
While I avoid accepting gifts from others who may be coercing me, I know that one of the best ways I can give is by being a grateful receiver. I am nothing more or nothing less than anybody else. I am no more deserving of receiving than is anybody else. I am simply one who recognises that life itself is a gift to be cherished, celebrated and shared with others.
Ian Gartshore is a minister, therapist and sustainable energy coach.