Receiving or giving, which comes easier to you? This deceptively simple question was a game changer for me and it arrived in 2001. That year was the worst year of my life and yet also one of the most trans-formative. In the space of six months I lost three women members of my family – my mother, a cherished aunt and a sister. Those deaths and the changes resulting from them challenged some of my core beliefs.
When it comes to life lessons and changing old ideas sometimes you are thrown into the arena to face down what you believe about yourself and what you value. Sometimes they come in small interactions with others. Sometimes they come from dark nights of the soul.
Giving and Receiving is not a greater/lesser than equation
Death is not and was not a new experience for me. However, compounded loss coupled with the change in our family structure by becoming guardians to my sister’s children, changed the dynamic of all of our lives. It also taught me innumerable lessons about who I thought I was, and about self-love.
One lesson was learning that receiving kindness and acts of charity, did not make me a lesser person. Our culture and the Christian ideology tells us, it is better to give than to receive. What does that mean as a recipient? Are you somehow less than, because you are in need?
In order to prepare for my niece and nephew to come into our home, become part of the family, our entire home needed revamping. It was a foray into de-cluttering on a grand scale. We weren’t building on, we had to make do. Two additional teenagers joining our family of four in an old farmhouse, the task was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start and grief isn’t exactly known for providing limitless amounts of energy.
When a friend emailed with an offer to fly out to help me I could only stare at the email. I read it and walked away. Came back, read it again, walked away. It was such a concrete example of the kind of help I needed, but also seemed fantastically selfish on my part to accept it. Who was I to have her leave her family on my account? Shouldn’t I just be able to get my shit together and get this done? I felt both shame and anxiety.
On impulse I wrote a quick email, “yes please, if you can.” I hit send and then wanted to take it back. Wrong, this was wrong. I was a strong, giving person. I was the giver, not the receiver. Within 30 minutes, she had replied. She had sorted it all out and would be flying out within days.
Receiving as a lesson in self love
The journey into receiving kindness, of tangible help and quiet compassion was a lesson to me about self-love and self-worth. I grew and have become more connected to others because I was able to accept my limitations and accept the help being offered. There is no debt. I don’t have to scramble to repay, and there is no lesser than or greater than. Only giving and receiving.
None of us are islands, apart from humanity. Modern society may have led us to believe that being capable and strong is about going it alone, but there isn’t anything further from the truth. Having a need is not being needy. Having a need met is not selfish.
One of the many stories that I had to re-craft from that experience was a re-definition of who I was. Kind, yes, loving, yes, perfectly nurturing without need of my own? No, adamantly no.
Since then I have also contemplated the burden we put on our men. They too have been held to an emotional rack of being strong no matter what. As women we need to allow our men to ask for help ,to be unsure, to look to us to hold the space for their uncertainty. Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly is an eye opener for both men and women. How can we more fully show up in our own lives and be there for each other? None of us can get through life without being on both sides of the giving and receiving equation.
Want a fuller, richer, more meaningful life? Lean into discomfort and find the lessons. Each one will teach you something you didn’t know and move you into the life you want.