We’ve all heard the saying: “it’s better to give than to receive.” However, generous self-giving is not always so simple in practice. We’ve all seen situations were individuals encounter more fatigue and sorrow in their self-giving than joy and happiness. I think this happens when we overlook the simple fact that we do not have an endless supply of energy, optimism and goodwill. Somewhere in our self-giving we forget our own real human needs to be replenished, restored and rejuvenated. In focusing on the other, which is an important aspect of self-giving and generosity, our own needs are forgotten or ignored. The danger in forgetting about ourselves is that our self-giving may no longer be a source of joy.
So how do we make self-giving a source of joy? One of my favourite writers on this subject, Jacques Phillippe, says that we have to learn to receive with simplicity and freedom. I think this is a stumbling block for many of us – myself included. It is easier to act like we have it all together – like we can handle it all. Or maybe our pride or self-image thinks that we are weak or a failure if we ask for help. The problems with this attitude is that it closes us off from receiving the help of others. We may also gladly take up the caregiving role because we really love the person we are caring for and can’t imagine any other response. Love is a good and noble reason for caring and giving – but we also need to have a spirit of openness to receiving.
The simple act of allowing another to help us bear our burdens can also be an act of love. We share a common human condition and when we are vulnerable and open to another we really connect on a deeper level. Letting another help us gives them an opportunity to be generous and really builds greatness of soul in both of us. I know when I’ve allowed someone to share my pain or sorrow or when I’ve received material help, my burden feels lighter and I feel understood and more connected.
There must also be freedom in receiving help. I believe that freedom comes from not keeping a scorecard of who helped you and who you owe. This is not to dismiss feelings or expressions of thankfulness or gratitude – those are important. What is essential is to accept the gift of assistance without feeling like it comes with a debt or IOU attached to it. Sometimes this attitude comes from the giver but I have found it most often raises its head within the heart of the receiver. I’ve seen it in my own heart and I don’t think it is such an unnatural reaction. It takes a certain amount of maturity to accept that one needs help and to accept that help with simplicity and freedom. Being able to do that allows us to be a joyful giver because we can also be a simple receiver.
It IS difficult to receive help. We feel it compromises our ability to handle things on our own, it demonstrates weakness, or disorganization. I have a friend who is a wonderful giver but a lousy receiver, and she sees me in the same category. Realizing this is the first step to being open to receiving, I think. As always, life is a learning journey. This is a good thing, movement, not stasis.