The Gift of Receiving

Written by John Paul Carter on July 28, 2011

Here’s another inspiring article from our monthly guest columnist, John Paul Carter.  

Have you thought about what you give to and receive from others?

I’m often asked how it feels to have the same name as a Pope. My first answer is that it can be very unnerving.

The morning after Pope John Paul I died, I was awakened out of a deep sleep by my clock-radio announcing, “John Paul is dead.”

What a way to start the day!

One of my favorite quotations comes from the pen of Pope John Paul II: “Nobody is so poor that he or she has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he or she has nothing to receive.”

His words remind me of the importance of both giving and receiving.

As a child, one of the first Bible verses I memorized was Acts 20:35, in which Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (This saying is not found in the four Gospels.)

I took those familiar words so literally that I grew up ignoring the corresponding significance of receiving.

As a result, I always tried to be the giver and felt awkward when I was the recipient of others’ gifts.

I felt more comfortable saying, “You’re welcome,” than saying, “Thank you.”

I became one of those frustrating people who answer, “Nothing,” when asked what they want for a birthday or Christmas.

Later, when the tables were turned and those I loved were resistant to revealing what gifts they wanted and needed, I began to re-examine the role of the receiver.

I discovered that our Lord was not only a generous giver; he was also a gracious receiver.

Early in his life, his parents received the gifts of the Magi, which probably financed the family’s flight to the safety of Egypt.

Later, when a lad offered him his lunch of loaves and fish, Jesus blessed it and fed the multitude.

And in the last week of his life, when Mary bathed his feet with her perfume and tears, Jesus received her lavish gift, praised her, and defended her against her critics.

Receiving is as important as giving, Henri Nouwen says, “Because by receiving we reveal to the givers that they have gifts to offer…We make givers aware of their unique and precious gifts. Sometimes it is only in the eyes of the receivers that givers discover their gifts.”

If we only view the gift as a material object, we may miss the care and love that it represents.

Though the gift itself might seem insignificant, too lavish, or inappropriate, it is a part of the one who gives it.

By valuing their gift, we value the giver.

And when we receive gifts, we are in the presence of our own needs and limitations.

By receiving, we acknowledge our own dependence on and connectedness to the other persons in our lives.

Out of receiving, the gift of humility is born.

And humility and need make grace–the greatest of all gifts–a possibility!


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