I totally understand how easy it is to be the giver rather than the receiver. When you are the receiver, there are questions that arise like, “What’s the intent of this gift?” “How do I repay this gift?” “How am I worthy of this gift?” Those are probably only some questions that pop up.
Often, receivers are unwilling, right? “No, don’t get me anything for my birthday, just come hang out.” Or, “Oh, you really didn’t have to give this to me! Please (as the receiver hands back the gift), this is too much!” We in the United States, as far as I know, are so reluctant to be a receiver. Most of us would rather give.
Would you ponder this with me, and admit that part of the pleasure of giving is that the giver is in control, and therefore it’s hard to surrender to become a receiver?
This aspect of generosity is something that Jean Vanier has advocated against, along with other famous people who dedicate their life to charity, such as St. Vincent de Paul, and Mother Teresa. They advocated that the givers need to become the receivers, otherwise the givers hold a control over those whom they give to, and their Christian charity becomes tainted with a type of domination.
I notice this type of domination all the time in my field of care giving. I am the one who has so much “control” in a situation when helping my clients with disabilities. I am in control how food will taste if I cook it, and I am in control of how clean a place will look after I leave. I am in control of what activities I make time for, and I am also in control of the way an activity is done.
I was working for a few days with an older couple. Let’s call them Larry and Susan. Larry was the main client who needed the most assistance, but since Susan also needed some assistance as well, I was expected to help both of them. Larry and Susan had issues with balance and movement of all their joints. They were unable to do simple things such as tie their shoes. They were both at risk of falling down at any time, so the caregiver would have to watch their movements closely.
I was told that they needed to do a shower at least 3 times a week. Larry was much more accepting of assistance than Susan was. When it came time for showers, Larry was ok to be the first one, and would obey my simple commands like, “Ok, let’s stand on the count of 3.” Susan, on the other hand, was not so keen on the shower. I let her postpone the shower day, but when it came to the time itself, she was still not happy about the thought. I paused, and I waited for her to explain why she wasn’t interested in the shower. “I just don’t know what I’m doing.”
And there it was. Fear showed its ugly face. She was as unfamiliar with the shower routine as I was since I just began working in her home a day before this situation. Susan didn’t want to be a receiver of my offer for a warm and relaxing shower. She’d rather skip it and stay away from risk. She was not being a giver: I needed her trust, and it was not being given to me.
After some gentle persuasion, and upbeat promises like, “I promise it will be warm, and it will be quick,” she began to walk over to the shower. But even when she got into the bathroom, she started whimpering, like a scared child; the shower was no longer a comforting activity for her in her old age. “I’m going to fall!” She made more distressed noises, and I respected her with silence. I moved slowly and I talked to her with an upbeat and reassuring voice in hopes of being able to complete the shower routine.
I let that situation stay with me as a powerful lesson of surrender. There’s too many times I have not wanted to surrender: listening to positive critique, giving trust to a stranger asking for money, forgiving a driver who doesn’t let me switch lanes. I, like so many people, want to demand justice and be in total control of the situation, or at least fight for control. Here on the opposite end was Susan, giving up control and security to a stranger who promised to honor her gift of trust. It seemed that the best way to accept the gift was to not think little of it, but instead receive it with astonishment and gentleness. As much as I was going to give her the best quality of care, I also had to become a mindful receiver of this woman’s vulnerability.
If I can find those times of silence and reflection, I can unpack these delicate and fleeting moments that I encounter with people that I care for. This Lenten season, let’s practice reciprocal giving, and reciprocal surrender.