When it comes to making more room for something, whether it’s more advice, new relationships, or some other blessing, our natural condition sometimes makes it hard for us to receive. There are several biblical precedents for this experience, and human psychology also provides some answers. This article looks at reasons why, both biblical and psychological, we tend to block out what comes our way.
1. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)
In some ways our belief can limit our ability to receive, as the perception of giving is often more encouraged. The thing with giving, however, is that when one person gives, another will receive. We should all be giving and receiving equally. If we were better at practicing this balanced approach to giving and also receiving, it could solve many societal issues.
Psychologists may agree that our modern culture of giving and receiving has been distorted by the encouragement of self-preservation in society. If someone cares more about himself or herself as opposed to caring for others, giving could be felt as a victory, imposing his or her opinion on others, while receiving in the same mentality could mean getting what the person wants. We are all guilty of this to a degree, as it seems to have always been a part of human nature.
Distorting gifts to serve us in ways that the giver did not intend can be traced back to Exodus 16 in the story of Manna from Heaven. We can also observe the same lesson learned when small children gorge themselves on candy to the point of getting sick. While not the intention of the giver, it’s often the result with the receiver. We’ve all had too much of a good thing.
2. Intimidated by Obligation
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Most of us don’t know how to respond when we receive a compliment, just as when we receive a cheerful gift. This sets us up for failing to receive gifts or advice with the good intentions that may come with them. When one person gives, the way the gift is received can become a gift all its own. Instead of being intimidated by the obligation of responding, we can practice techniques and get better at our response.
Whether we agree with a compliment or not, or whether or not we value the gift as it’s given, the best advice is often just to say a simple and sincere “thank you”. Psychology fundamentals covered in foundational MBA courses show the value of simplicity and sincerity as opposed to adding “very much”, “so much”, or other modifiers afterwards. The focus made on the words “thank you”, landing with meaning, says it all.
3. Perception of Reciprocation
Related to confusion in responding to gifts is the perception that gifts need to be reciprocated immediately. To illustrate this in practice, we’ll look at receiving gifts of both objects and information. When someone receives a package at Christmas, he or she might utter the phrase “I’m sorry I didn’t buy you anything” if they don’t have a gift to give in return.
The act of graciously receiving can be viewed as a gift itself. As suggested earlier, the receipt of a gift can become more important and more enjoyable for both parties with more openness in how it is received. We can make the receipt of that gift more important by leaving the emphasis there, not immediately reciprocating or adding wordy platitudes.
Certainly it is a good practice to return the favor, which increases the spirit of generosity and the theme of giving. Fortunately there is no rush. The process of remembering and building towards a less expected reciprocation later can make the relationships between giver and receiver more meaningful in the long run.
When it comes to a gift of information, imagine the role of a teacher becoming a student, or the act of a parent being guided by a child. These relational shifts can become profound moments of transformation over a long period of time. Don’t feel obligated to return the favor right away. Let the act of giving in the fullness of time transform both you and the original gift giver into something greater still.
4. Fear of Connection
The last two hurdles to openness are connected: Fear and Control. Many problems with relationships can be traced back to either fear, control, or both. In one instance, fear of connection can become an issue, where a person fails to be open and makes it harder to receive. Anyone who has felt unrequited love can relate. Connecting with another person can remind us of damage caused by opening to others in the past.
Some sayings in life provide predictable utility. One of these is “Love like you’ve never been hurt.” Like most things, this is easier said than done. The full verse, attributed to Mark Twain, makes it easier to manage the idea of unconditional love as we’re given the other activities as a distraction:
“Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.” -Mark Twain
5. Need for Control
If it’s not fear that gets us, it will be control. Everything we’ve talked about so far can be attributed to one or the other. Regarding control in particular, when it comes to receiving, we must be open. By definition, being open means we are vulnerable and exposed. When we can’t control, we can’t defend. When we don’t defend, we receive damage. The deciding factor is the importance of trust. When we trust we won’t be exposed, we’re able to remain open long enough to receive a meaningful gift.
Life lessons may come when we least expect them. The same event could occur with two identical people, where one person perceives the action as a loss or an attack and the other finds it offers a valuable lesson or gift in some way. As beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, the gift may lie in the eyes of those exposed, open to new experiences. Circumstances define how everything is perceived, so it’s up to us to define the circumstances in which we find ourselves. When we empower ourselves to keep open hearts, and define a better context, we can all make better receivers.
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16