Learning to Receive
Sometimes it takes more courage to receive than to give.
When I get lost I don’t ask for directions. I don’t like asking for help, advice or favors. I dislike gifts and have always preferred to be the one giving instead of receiving. I used to think that this was a strength until the day I discovered that receiving is its own precious gift and that sometimes it takes more courage (and vulnerability) to receive than to give.
I’ll never forget that afternoon. I was on a work phone call when my children walked in the door from school and I motioned for them to please be quiet. But instead of dropping her knapsack and running into the playroom with the other kids, my daughter just stood there in the doorway smiling at me, holding a brown, crumpled bag in her hands. Her curly blonde hair had escaped the braids that I had made that morning, and her dimpled face was almost glowing with pride. I turned away to finish my phone call but a minute later, when I hung up, my daughter was still standing there with her knapsack on and the bag in her hands.
“Ima, I bought you a present. I bought it with my allowance,” my daughter said, beaming.
That week was the first time that my daughter received an allowance. And what did she do with it? She used all of her money to buy me a present.
Even before I opened the bag which my daughter held out to me, I felt tears well up in my eyes. Inside was a gold and white candle and a little note with big, scribbled words: I love you, Ima.
I hugged my daughter as I tried to hide my tears and put the candle next to our crystal glasses in the breakfront. It has remained there for more than a decade because every time I look at it, I remember: Receiving love is just as important as giving love. Being vulnerable enough to need another person is a strength instead of a weakness. Learning how to receive is learning how to love, how to live and how to grow.
On Shavuot, the Jewish people opened themselves up and received God’s gift of the Torah. Here are four ways to learn how to receive:
Focus on connection. Are you keeping others at a distance and placing walls around your heart? Receiving creates connection. It’s easier to accept a compliment, a gift or even advice when we focus on the value of the connection itself instead of on our vulnerability.
Let go of the “quid pro quo” mentality. We are used to thinking that everything has a price and that we will always need to pay back a favor if it is given to us. This blocks our ability to fully appreciate another person’s generosity and yearning to give to us. Not everything in life can or should be repaid. Some gifts have no price and some kindnesses are not meant to be returned.
Remember that we don’t always need to be in control. When we give we feel like we are in control of the situation. Receiving requires us to relinquish some of that control and to expose the tender, vulnerable part of ourselves that is open to other people and to the part of ourselves that knows that we can’t control the world around us.
Reframe receiving as an act of kindness. Many of us are used to thinking of receiving as a selfish act, but giving others the opportunity to give is sometimes one of the kindest acts we can do. Instead of feeling ashamed when we are receiving from others, feel proud that we are giving someone else the precious opportunity to give to us.
Shavuot is an opportunity for us to learn how to receive from the Infinite Giver who wants us to have the gift of His Torah. On Shavuot, I think of that moment when my daughter stood in the doorway and how I almost missed it. I was almost too distracted and caught up in myself to receive her precious gift of love. The candle sits in front of me to remind me.
When I am lost, I should ask for directions. When I am stuck, I should ask for advice. And when I want to connect to the Source of all life, I should learn how to let go so that I can receive His Infinite love.