“It is better to give than to receive,” says Scripture (Acts 20:35). But receiving is important too.
After working with us for 12 years, Cheryl decided to look for a new job. We were disappointed, but at least we could arrange a party to say thank-you and farewell.
But Cheryl ducked out secretly. She neither deserved nor enjoyed a party, she confided to one colleague. So she just disappeared.
Harry Holmes’s teaching career ground to a halt when chemotherapy drained his strength to nearly nothing. He knew his life was coming to an end soon.
“I don’t want a funeral or memorial service,” Harry insisted. “Just cremate me and dump my ashes. I am nothing, and to spend all that money and attention on me is wrong. Praise God, not me.”
His sons complied when Dad died. As word of his death spread in the community, grateful former students, colleagues, and friends sent their condolences and anticipated a funeral service where they could say thank-you and goodbye. There was none. Harry was gone.
Both Cheryl and Harry ignored the needs of the people closest to them. By ruling out a farewell party or a funeral they deprived many of a way to appropriately finish something important. They thought they were acting selflessly. But they were being selfish.
When Linda retired after 20 years of teaching kindergarten, the school board invited her to a farewell dinner. “I’m not going,” Linda announced. “I don’t like being the center of attention. It just makes me nervous.”
“Endure it,” I advised. “They need to say thank-you and goodbye. Endure it for their sakes.” She did and she enjoyed it.
Jesus taught us something when a woman anointed him with an expensive perfume. His disciples sounded like many of us—objecting as if it were wasteful. They were oblivious of the needs of the human spirit.
Giving and receiving loving kindness, appreciation, and affirmation is food the soul depends on. We often regard these spiritual vitamins as frivolous when in fact they have important substance.
Jesus enjoyed the loving kindness given him. He relished the extravagance poured on him. And he honored the gift-giver and accepted her “wasteful” generosity. He did not put her down or imply poor judgment.
Jesus affirmed the need of the human spirit for loving acts of kindness. He demonstrated that we are nourished by sometimes wild and expensive extravagance, as well as by all the smaller, routine gifts of beauty, kindness, and tastiness.
Another time Jesus was hurt after he healed 10 leprosy victims and only one came back to say thank you. It bothered him that the rest walked off, taking his amazing gift for granted.
“Soul” and “spirit” define us as being more than just physical beings. Neglect and denial of appreciation and loving kindness dehydrates the spirit and shrinks the soul. Failing to feed our soul or spirit diminishes our capacity to give love in this world, as God intended.
One encounter sprinkled through my life is trying to praise hardworking pastors. “Praise God, not me,” they glibly retort. In other words, “I need no such appreciation.” True, receiving love and appreciation can trigger moral or spiritual compromise. But pastors should be the last to risk allowing their souls to shrivel by rejecting words of gratitude and praise.
Cheryl and Harry not only thwarted the needs of family and friends to show loving kindness and appreciation, they denied their own humanness—unlike Jesus, who opened his heart to it and to those who expressed it. Jesus shows us that both receiving and giving are vital to a well-nourished spirit and soul.
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