Friday, December 16, 2005

Advent: Learning to Receive

In Watch for the Light, William Willimon questions our ability to receive. He thinks that we are much more comfortable in the role of giving. He notes that the first thing we often do when given a gift is to want to give a gift in return...not necessarily out of love or kindness but...

We don't want to be indebted. The gift seems to lay a claim upon us... By giving us a gift, the person has power over us.

We to prefer to think of ourselves as givers - powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate.

But in the story of Christmas, God has given to us in a way that we can never return payment and we don't know how to handle that. Again, Willimon says...

It's tough to be on the receiving end of love. God's or anybody else's... "Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace, " wrote John Wesley a long time ago.

This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn't need, which transform us into people we don't necessarily want to be.

This last quote is the most profound for me. Because we are so ingrained in our way of thinking and not in tune with God, his actions often seem foreign and even inappropriate, so we often reject them out right - barely giving them any consideration. (Hasn't this happened even in the Christmas story itself?)

This Advent I encourage you to receive the gift that God wants to give you - not the one that you think you need. What is it that he's been trying to give you (think character qualities or relationships) that you have resisted because that's just "not you". It's in receiving that gift and becoming the person he wants you to be that you will find peace and fulfillment.


Anonymous said...

In the book, Rising Sun, Michael Creighton presents a perspective on gratitude that comes out of a Japanese cultural perspective.

The first definition is the traditional one; the sentiment that is expressed when one receives something from another person.

The second definition is an interesting and revealing one. Resentment.

If this is fact true, and not a bit of artistic license on Creighton's part, what the Japanese have done is formalize, in their language, this other side of gratitude that we tend to look away from.

The value of knowing this second definition, is that it helps us to define and consequently understand what we are feeling at those moments when someone gives us a gift. It allows us to label, and thus understand this sense of resentment that accompanies gifts.

We are much more comfortable in the role of giver than receiver. Part of that might be due to a lack of clarity and understanding of what it means to receive.

Unless we learn to receive, with grace, as well as give, with grace, our ability to love one another, as Christ would have had us love one another, remains challenged.

Remy Diederich said...

Very insightful. Thanks for sharing that. It brings out the complexity of our minds, doesn't it? Who would think about resentment and gratitude being joined at the hip? But I think the resentment you referred to comes from our sense of independence. We don't want to be perceived as someone who needs anything. That's why it's so hard for us to come to God - because he tells us that we are poor and empty on our own and that's too hard for our ego! Thanks again.