When I started dating the woman would become my wife, I also started going to her church. It’s called Mill City. It was started by her brother-in-law(Pastor Mike) and she has invested a good deal of work into it herself, so it’s pretty important to her. I was kind of in between churches myself, having just changed my work schedule, and I was never really one to be super committed to any one specific church or denomination in the first place. So I followed the general theme of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians and had no real trouble making her church my church.
It’s a good church. The kind of church we need more of. A real put your money where your mouth is, walk the talk kind of church. For the last couple of weeks, Pastor Mike has been preaching on ‘What Christians Do’ and the week before last he talked about generosity, both temporal generosity and a generosity of spirit(AKA ‘grace’ AKA giving people the benefit of the doubt). Over lunch, Kate and I were talking about how we had both been impressed by the sermon in different ways and we resolved to try and be more generous, both with each other and with the world in general. And do you know what I found out?
Being generous is easy.
But receiving generosity? That is daaaaaamn hard. Surprisingly and obnoxiously hard.
This kind of took me by surprise, because before this, if you had asked me which I thought would be harder, giving or receiving, I would have looked at you like you were an idiot and said ‘Duh. Giving.’ After all, it’s giving that requires action on the part of the giver. They’re the ones who actually have to go and do something. They have to spend money, or time, or gas. They have to pick something up and go get something or generally put themselves out for another person. But once I actually sat and thought about it, it became apparent fairly quickly that as far as I was concerned(and while I make no claims as regards being an archetype, I would be surprised if this were not, by and large, universal), giving was much easier than receiving.
Yeah, I may be putting myself out momentarily, but the intangibles are all flowing back my way. Personally, I get a little rush out of giving people things. You find something that somebody you know can really use, or that they really want. You give it to them, and you get to see their face light up and you get to bask in the gratitude and feel that glow that says ‘Yeah, I am a pretty great guy, after all. Look at me being all thoughtful.’
But receiving? Receiving is the exact opposite of that. It means that I have to let someone else do something for me and that is humbling. And being humbled, even momentarily and/or inadvertently and with the best of intentions on the part of the giver, is unpleasant. It’s often necessary, like having a rotten tooth pulled. But like having a rotten tooth pulled, it’s also not an experience I seek out. And then I feel that sting, that sting that says pride is messing with me. But if there is one thing I learned from ‘Pulp Fiction’ other than that you should stay out of pawnshop basements in L.A., it’s that pride never helps, it only hurts.
Generosity also demands a response. I’m not saying that the giver is necessarily demanding a response(although they may)but that even if they don’t, the act itself demands a response. Gratitude. An acknowledgement that someone else is better suited, more qualified, more experienced, or just better placed than I am. An acknowledgement that I was deficient in some way, that I failed to measure up some way, that I needed some measure of grace.
I think this is because every act of temporal generosity is a reflection of God’s generosity to humanity. Every bit of grace that someone extends to us mirrors the grace that Christ showed us at the cross. And much like how humanity instinctively feels the pull of that act, that from us Christ’s sacrifice demands a response, so too do the little acts of grace that mirror it demand a response.
And that’s maybe why receiving is harder than giving. Because it brings us back to the cross, and reminds us of our need for grace and, maybe, reminds us to forgive as we have been forgiven.