Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why receiving is giving


The other day I was walking into Panera for a quick dinner, when I noticed a middle-aged woman walking behind me. Struck with a momentary spirit of generosity, I decided to open the door for her and allow her to go first. She stunned me when she looked up and said, "No thanks." Puzzled, I continued to hold the door for her and gesture for her to go through. "No, you can go," she said. I tried a third time, to which she politely said, "Go ahead. Thanks though."

I'm still shaking my head a bit over this one. I realize it is often difficult to receive from others, but I have never had anyone willing to debate who should walk through a door first during three attempts.

I also felt disappointed. All I wanted to do was allow the woman to go first. It was simple. It didn't cost me anything, but perhaps my place in line. I wasn't asking anything from her, with the simple exception that she receive the gift. When she did not, I walked away feeling a bit rejected.

When we offer a gift, we aren't simply offering the material (or immaterial) thing. We are also offering part of ourselves. That's why a gift can never be a matter of mere economic exchange -- this for that. It's also why we have a desire for the gift to be accepted. When it is accepted, our gift of self has been too. When it is rejected, we have been rejected.

I'm sure the stranger at Panera had no intention of rejecting me. She even said, "Thanks anyway," as I invited her to enter the restaurant first. But in insisting that she be in control, she was not giving. She was taking.

May we all come to understand more deeply that our receiving is a form of giving ... not only in our interactions with friends, family and strangers, but even more so, with God.

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