As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
More Blessed to Give?
I sip a bit of leftover chicken and rice soup as I browse the Black Friday sales. I’m shopping from my recliner this year—a luxury I wouldn’t have dreamed of thirty years ago. Next, I click on the “Sign-up Genius” for our church’s Angel Tree project—where we can donate food for the holidays to needy families in our community.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and, as Christians, we take it to heart. We instill this value in our kids, especially at Christmas when messages of greed bombard us. And we pride ourselves in our cheerful and generous giving.
I enjoy gifting my family during the holidays, and giving to those in need comes back to bless me. I’ve experienced the blessing whenever I’ve volunteered to make a meal for someone, bought supplies for the homeless center, or donated to a “GoFundMe.” When we give our time and resources, it reminds us how blessed we are at that moment. We give thanks for our health and prosperity, knowing our circumstances could change in an instant. And so, through our giving, we are blessed.
But, is it more blessed to give than to receive? The circle of giving isn’t complete without a receiver. How can we be blessed to receive gifts?
I ponder these questions as I let that last spoonful of soup—a soup I didn’t make—warm me from the inside out.
Learning to Receive
While I’d never turn down a dozen roses from my husband or a soft new sweater under the Christmas tree, I admit I’m not great at receiving gifts. Are any of us, after around age 12, really good at receiving? And since Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive, why should we be?
Living in a culture that values strength, wealth and self-sufficiency, the givers have become equated with power and ability. However, we often view receiving gifts—especially of assistance, necessities or financial help—as signs of weakness. The givers are the “haves” and the receivers are the “have-nots.” In this “have-it-all” society, it’s hard to admit that we “have not.”
A Paradigm Shift
A friend of mine has breast cancer. Recently, while undergoing her chemo treatments, I signed up to bring a meal for her and her family. I was happy to do this “good deed.” It reminded me to give thanks for my health and the ability to help out my friend. A few weeks later, I brought dinner to a family in our church’s small group after they had a baby. And another friend happily received a meal after her ACL repair.
Little did I know, four months later, that the tables would turn. A torn tendon in my hip resulted in months of pain and limping and culminated in a surgical repair. When a church deacon asked me after Bible study if I’d like some meals as I recovered, I hesitated to say “yes.” After all, it’s only my husband and me. I could freeze some meals ahead of time and he’s got basic cooking skills. We could get by. I glanced around the room, noticed the other ladies waiting for my response and, looking at the floor, said, “I’ll think about it.”
A week later, she asked me again. I took a deep breath and said, “Maybe a few meals would be nice. It would allow Tom to catch a break.” In retrospect, I realized I was not willing to admit my weakness, but used my husband’s need for a break as an excuse to say “yes.” Why, with an impending invasive procedure on a major body joint, I could not acknowledge my need for help is a mystery. And yet, it’s not.
Our culture has conditioned us to flaunt our strengths, wins and joys while hiding our weaknesses, losses and pain. We imagine our vulnerability will be met with sideways glances or a pitiful “tsk, tsk.” Asking for help might show others we “can’t handle it.”
But within the body of Christ, there should be a different reality. In the upside-down, Christ-like world, our weakness, losses and pain bring about perfect power. Jesus himself said it when he told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9).
But how, exactly, does that happen?
The Perfection of Christ’s Power: A Three-fold Blessing
In receiving gifts, we recognize and admit our human weakness, put aside our egos and clothe ourselves with Christ-like humility. Jesus, our perfect example, “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). In humbling ourselves, we become more like him and open our arms to the gifts he grants us.
Those gifts come to us when others embody Christ’s love. By accepting support and allowing others to be Christ’s hands and feet, we acknowledge we’re not perfect, strong or capable on our own. We depend on others, building up Christ’s kingdom through mutual love and support. We complete the circle of giving by receiving the gift of soup—or countless other gift forms—from the giver who has seized the opportunity to show Christ’s love.
Finally, we find our fullness in Christ alone by admitting our weakness. If we put our trust in God, daily depending on him, we admit our nothingness. However, allowing others to show us love reminds us of our belovedness. God loves us through our weaknesses and despite our nothingness. Our value is not in our own strength but in simply being beloved by our heavenly Father. In receiving gifts from others, we practice receiving the greatest gift—the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
More than Soup
My deacon-friend immediately went to work setting up a Meal Train and, within a week, she had five meals lined up for us following my surgery. When I browsed the list of meal-makers, I was thankful but, again, a little embarrassed. Three of the names were the friends I had helped months earlier. I hoped they didn’t sign up because they felt the need to return the favor. I had not brought them a meal hoping they would pay me back in the future!
When my friend with cancer delivered her chicken and rice soup to the door, I mentioned my misgivings about her paying me back. She replied, “Oh no! It just feels so good to be able to do this for you!” I could see she was blessed through her giving.
And receiving blessed me. The soup she prepared was delicious—not only for the tender shreds of chicken, the flavorful veggies and spices, and creamy broth. This soup tasted like compassion, care and love. In my weakness, Christ’s power was perfected in one small bowl of soup.
Hard times will fall into all our lives. We might experience physical injury or illness, job loss or financial hardship, mental illness, a broken relationship or the death of a loved one. During our times of loss and weakness, God doesn’t ask us to power through and pretend everything is okay. Instead, he asks us to embrace our humanity and, in humbleness, cry out for help.
God is delighted when we reach out and take that bowl of soup—or childcare, potted plant, ride to church, friendly hug or money for the electric bill. In doing so, we allow Christ’s body—the church—to care for us, delivering his love and healing grace in tangible ways. In receiving, we complete the circle of giving. We accept the grace of God. We know we are loved.
And through receiving, we are blessed.
About the Author
- Linda Hanstra, a semi-retired speech-language pathologist, writes about what brings joy to her empty nest–faith, family, cycling, traveling, grandparenting, and more–at lindahanstra.com and on Substack. The author of Lent through the Little Things, Linda and her husband, Tom, attend Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Indiana.