Sometimes It Is Better To Receive Than To Give

I ran a beautiful 10K loop around a nearby lake last week. The lightly-traveled road that circles the lake winds through fields of goldenrod, milkweed, and asters. It is closed between September 30 and March 1, so I wanted to run it again before the opportunity vanished.

As I ran, I thought of the recent visit of my son and his wife, who live in Oregon, to attend the funeral service of my late father-in-law.

They made the 3,000+ mile (one-way) drive to Pennsylvania, no small sacrifice, to avoid flying in the time of COVID.

The day they left for the long drive home, we visited a bakery in our small town to get take-out bagel sandwiches for a picnic breakfast.

This son and I play an ongoing vicious game of “Who Will Get the Check?” The game has evolved from a simple, quick grab at the end of a meal to elaborate schemes designed to emerge victorious, the bill in the hand of the winner. To triumph now takes cunning, organization, forethought, and sometimes outright deceit.

In this family, we take our games seriously.

That particular morning, I made a rookie mistake and neglected to bring my wallet. I still had hopes of winning, however. I told my husband to ask for the check.

Bill, unused to the strategy needed to succeed, allowed our son to pay for breakfast.

No!” I wailed, unused to losing.

Just let him pay, Honey,” Bill consoled me. “He wants to treat us.

I always taught my children that it is better to give than receive, of course. I just never thought they would take the lesson so literally, to use it against me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The whole incident made me think of giving, receiving, and generosity.

I have always been uncomfortable with a debt of any kind. I pay off my credit card bills each month, make double car payments to reduce the span of the loan, and have never borrowed money from a relative or friend.

But when my “no debt” policy carries over from the financial to the emotional or spiritual realms of my life, trouble arises.

Being generous makes us feel beneficent. Poverty, real or implied, shames us.

By always reaching for the check, I am taking that feel-good moment away from my son. 

When friends recently sent us flowers, plants, small gifts as sympathy offerings, my impulse was to return the gesture, to even the ledger, so to speak. I had to restrain myself from returning their kindness with some of my own. (OK, cards on the table: I did return one friend’s empty flower vase filled with homemade granola, but that doesn’t really count. I wanted her to have some granola.)

I am a better giver than receiver, it is true, but here is the thing about receiving that no one tells you: it makes you vulnerable. 

To receive requires you to open yourself up and accept, to admit your need, your poverty. 

You might open yourself up to give, but it’s not necessary. I have given away plenty of stuff that I just didn’t want – books I have read, clothes I don’t wear, vases that no longer fit in my overstuffed cupboards. It didn’t cost me anything to donate these items to the church-sponsored thrift shop in our town.

On the other hand, I have been the recipient of gifts that cost the giver something precious – time, talent, money, or all of the above.

Receiving something that we don’t deserve requires surrender, something I am still learning, even at this late stage in life.

When we receive unwarranted gifts from our family or friends, we call it abundance, fullness, profusion. When we receive them from God (or the Universe, whatever you name It), we call it grace.

To accept grace, then, I must make myself vulnerable. 

I must recognize my neediness, my poverty, my want. The ledger is not balanced, and it never was. The playing field was always tilted toward me, with grace invariably sliding down the slope in my direction.

Someone else has already picked up the check.

The day my son won our game, I ate my bagel sandwich in the early Fall sunshine, humbled at my defeat, but glad he could feel the glow of generosity. 

I learned that, the verse from Acts notwithstanding, sometimes it is better to receive than to give.

I just hope he doesn’t think this is going to become a habit. I am already planning my strategy for our next round of “Who Will Get the Check?”.

It’s going to be a doozy.

You can find the places I link up here.

88 comments

  1. “I ran a beautiful 10K loop…” I have to say, I have a problem relating to that, but I’m happy for you 🙂

    I have played that game many times. I ‘d probably be a poor match for you, as it seems you’re a pro,

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  2. Hi Laurie, Autumn is a beautiful time to go for a run. I am very sorry to hear about the passing of your father-in-law. I will be dreaming about this bagel sandwich all day long. I agree with your words, how our children like that feel-good moment when they can give. And the concept of surrender. I had not thought about this. Thank you for a though-provoking post. Perfect for our weekend here in Canada. Thanksgiving. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh man I can relate to this! My parents aren’t big “gift” people so it’s really hard to do anything for them. And it’s so satisfying. After many years I’ve gotten them to the point where they will accept “handed up” used electronics: fitbit, iphone, and air fryer. But I’m not skilled enough to have them eat on our dime yet.

    On the flip side, I love treating my stepsons and I can’t imagine ever letting them pay for a meal even though they will be grownups one day. So the generational war goes on….

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  4. I am finally catching up with your last several posts, Laurie, and this one is a gem. I too struggle with trying to “reciprocate” when what I’m really trying to do, if I’m honest, is to even the score. We mustn’t deny others the chance to give to us when it’s genuine, and we can’t deny our need to receive. I love what you said about the playing field having always been tilted in our direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jan, with all that is going on in schools right now, I can imagine your plate is full to overflowing. What? You want a personal life too? As the mother of adult sons, I can imagine you struggle with wanting to be the giver more than the receiver too. Thank you for the kind words.

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  5. You are too funny, Laurie! I love that you play that game with your son and that he actually wants to treat you! I’m not sure my sons would be quite so eager! Lol! But yes, surrender is definitely a part of receiving. And I’m still working on it after many decades of wanting to be the giver! Thanks for this reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Laurie – I often feel the same way – that I’m almost “undeserving” of any gift that comes my way – even if I win something I wonder if I really deserved it! I’ve been giving my mindset a lot of thought lately and I know I need to work on the concept that I need to “earn” every little thing – including love, compliments, praise etc – it’s stupid and I know it, but that inner child of mine definitely needs some working on so she catches up with Midlife “Me” 🙂

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  7. I do this very thing with my daughters. Often handing off my debit card to the waitress immediately after we are seated or on my way to the bathroom shortly after we arrive at the restaurant. But you are so wise, so correct. Our children deserve to experience the good feeling that comes from treating, from picking up the check. Sometimes it is kinder, better to receive.

    Today my daughter had my granddaughters all by herself while her husband did 12 surgeries at the hospital. We were home just watching Sunday football when she called to see what we were up to. I offered to meet her on the top of the mountain between our homes to pick up my granddaughters to give her a little down time. Or invited them all to come over to sit in the hot tub. Lauren decided to bring the girls over and offered to cook dinner for everyone to repay us for having them over. I really felt bad about her cooking but decided it was a wonderful treat for me and she truly wanted to do it. A win-win for everyone. PC had 3 helpings of dinner, I played with the babies, fed them and gave them baths and Lauren enjoyed the hot tub and cooked dinner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Handing my credit card to the waitress immediately is one of my strategies too! 🙂 Your day with your daughter and grandchildren was certainly a win for everyone involved! What a wonderful way to spend time with your grandkids, while giving your daughter a much-needed break!

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  8. I am also really uncomfortable with feeling like I “owe” somebody, whether its a gift or a compliment. I am working hard on learning to graciously accept, but maybe balance it out with my own generosity later, when the person actually needs something from me.

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  9. Great story and a wonderful message. We need to appreciate the undeserved gifts and givers. As our children turn into adults, they want to show their love and have us acknowledge their success. As hard as it can be we do need to be gracious receivers.

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  10. Awww, I love this story. I too dislike being in debt or feeling like I’m in debt to others. What a great perspective of allowing others to feel the glow of being generous. Thank you for this fun twist!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Laurie,
    I confess that I have the same tendancy – I love to give, but sometimes squirm when someone does something nice for me. In recent years, I’ve been getting better. I know how much fun it is to surprise others with a little something. Why should I deny them the same joy that I so enjoy. Thanks for the reminder to be a gracious recipient of gifts from others!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Growing up “Who Will Get the Check?” was my family’s game, too. I watched my parents and my aunts and uncles engage in a vicious competition to win the check. I suspect it came down to no one wanting to be beholden to another person. It’s the vulnerability issue you mentioned. WASPs don’t like that feeling at all. I’m mellower about this issue, but back as a kid…

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  13. yes, sometimes we must be willing to receive and sometimes willing to give. Grateful for the grace of a Savior who gave His life so I can give away mine to bless others and point them to HIm.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I laughed at the game. We have friends we play the same game with. It all comes out in the wash though. I’m also better at giving than receiving and yes, feel the debt even though there is usually none intended. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes it is better to receive than give – and to allow others to feel the joy of giving. Have a fabulous week.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a huge trip for your son and DIL. Wow. I’ll bet it meant the world to have them there. And what a great post, Laurie–fun AND thought provoking. (Hm…I think I’d call in advance of your trip to the restaurant next time. Give the CC# over the phone before anyone even pulls into the parking lot!). As I read along here, Diana Butler Bass’s book _Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks_ came to mind. Have you read it? She talks about reciprocity in it, quite a bit. and how that can not only interfere with both giving & receiving, but it also makes the gratitude part a little confusing for the receiver. I’m doing it no justice here–but you might be interested if you haven’t read it already!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have not read that book. Thank you for the suggestion. I will check it out. It definitely sounds like a topic I think about. And thanks for the check-getting advice. I will add that trick to my repertoire!

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  16. Lovely words Laurie. I think I’m a better giver than receiver too. Our family do something similar with trying to beat the others to pay for the bill when we’re out!! Isn’t it funny how we do that?

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  17. I so identify with this. I’m guessing I learned this from my Mom. She was very careful to return gifts, anything she borrowed, etc. My problem is asking for someone’s help. Just recently, my husband told me that I have no problem offering help and going out of my way for others, but don’t ask or receive help gracefully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I definitely learned this from my mom. She was one of the most generous people I ever met. She was always giving. I struggle with the same problem as you, Corinne.

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  18. I should play that game with my oldest son and family. They always pay, and won’t let me, but I finally did…well or almost…by buying all the food for a cookout and having them over. Since the virus, they usually bring order out food on the way, and won’t take money. Anyway, they insisted on leaving me money, I refused, but after they were gone, I found it. At least they didn’t pay for all of it. My middle son once told me it is good to receive, but as you, I’ve always been more the giver, which I enjoy. And, usually think I have to reciprocate.
    The run area looks nice with the flowers, weeds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How nice of your son to treat you! It is nice to be treated. Your son hiding the money sounds like something I would do. I guess most families play that game one way or another!

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  19. Laurie, am still coming back, and looking up blog friends. The pause was because we moved from West to East coast, and are still adjusting after having been in Texas for 3 months. Say your face at Dan’s blog, to say hi. But funny, part of what you are saying has to do with what I just posted. Being independent is seen as good. people having difficulty to receive, etc. Sometimes it is better to receive, lol!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I had to have a little laugh at the competition side of things. My best friend/family if i stay at hers she won’t accept any thanks for her precious time, her main love language is the quality time. But I always hide a little something where she will find it after I have left. Its quite funny & the joy in her voice when she rings to thank me & tell me how naughty I am is well & truely worth it.

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  21. That does sound like a fun family game Laurie. I also pay my credit card off monthly – in fact I usually come home from grocery shopping and just pay it that same day. I mention this because I decided at the beginning of the pandemic I wanted to get a gas fuel card, rather than use money. I didn’t want to use my Visa card as we have a lot of issues of devices put on gas pumps to skim your card info – so I wanted a gas credit card. I applied and got back a letter saying I had no credit history, thus I was a risk. I was humiliated and mad … now having good credit is a bad thing! So, I went online and order a gas load-as-you-go card for the same fuel company … that was an insult.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would probably get the same letter, Linda. We never have a balance on any of our credit cards. I guess the credit card companies want to charge you that exorbitant interest on the unpaid balance. Sorry you had such a bad experience!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My parents only had a Sears credit card that I can recall – they usually paid cash for items and I can’t even say they had a checking account as I don’t recall seeing checks getting written. I think all bills were just paid in person. I was just surprised, however, right after that happened, my first stock investments was with Dean Witter (now Morgan Stanley). I got a letter right after the Sunoco denial from Morgan Stanley that they had a data breach, so I now have two years of free Experian credit monitoring. So I got a free peek … yes, it said never out 30 days, 60 days – no balance carried. Well, the gas card solved the problem for me and I’m not applying for any credit cards since I only use my Visa and Meijer (grocery) cards. I had paid in full for my car in 2009 – it is 11 years old and getting a new car now might be dicey. I plan to just lease next time as I don’t drive that much.

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      • I think my mom used to pay most of her bills in person too. Isn’t that strange? I do use credit cards to pay for everything because I save up the points, but I always pay the balance each month.

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      • I don’t think credit cards were as common back then – people cashed checks and brought home the money and divvied it up for bills/groceries, etc. I don’t use cash for anything anymore since I got the refillable gas card. I used to use cash at the salon as she didn’t take checks or credit cards, but I never went back since I got my last highlights/haircut in October 2019. I’ve been cutting my own hair and the highlights just faded – I am not really gray, just wisps around my face and have light brown hair so I’ll just go with that.

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  22. Hi Laurie – you are so right – learning how to receive is something some folks have to work on – can be vulnerable – and… there can be a lot of “pride” in giving (not the way you referenced it here) but the power of gifting can really motivate – and was reading a study about how altruistic behavior can be done with lout any feelings of empathy – so some philanthropy or giving can be done as matter of checklist and maybe for reputation –
    Anyhow / my very favorite thing about giving something is when someone is honest about if they don’t want it (you know -not a birthday gift – but if I was regifting something and offered it and the person says “no thanks I really would not use it – ” or something like that.
    Then I end up finding someone who “values” it because the first person was so honest

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  23. That was a huge journey undertaken by the family for a very special and sad occasion. Interestingly whilst I identified with this, I think I have been, over time, too prepared to let my Dad pay. This has ceased now but there was a part of me that thought as he had more money than we did/do (true) it did not cost him. Thanks for giving me food for thought.

    Thank you for linking up for LifeThisWeek and I hope you join in again next week, where the optional prompt is 42/51 Self-Care Stories #6. 19.10.2020. Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it certainly was a huge journey. We were so glad my son and his wife made the trek. My mom and dad treated us more often than we treated them.

      Thank you for hosting. Hope to see you next week.

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  24. Oh Laurie, I can so relate with both the game and your loss. It is so difficult to be on the receiving end as it requires humility. How precious though for your son to learn the preciousness of giving, especially to his very own parents who have given so much to him. Wonderful post in so many ways!

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  25. You and my husband could give each other pointers at that game. Part of his motivation is that we can spare it for now, and the kids have various needs. I’m sure there will come a time in our future when we won’t be able to any more and possibly will even need their help. But, as you said, it takes away from their getting a blessing from giving now. And we all need to learn to receive sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Laurie, I love this take on giving and receiving…but OUCH, really hit home! I can so identify with that breakfast scene. But you are so right, to receive grace (or anything) we must be vulnerable! Sad to say I often play this game with God; refusing to allow Him to bless me through others. Thank you!!

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  27. Because we have a steady retirement income we decided to give rather than receive during the pandemic. We gave our two renters two month rent holidays. We couldn’t be home for six months due to travel restrictions, so we sent funds to the food bank for three months and sent our check early to the Christmas cheer fund. If another stimulus check arrives we will send the funds back out to the food bank. I know that if I was in need someone would step up to help. – Margy

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  28. I love this Laurie. Having that vulnerability to receive really opens us up to connection, which is what the giving and receiving is really all about in the end. I’ve always been blessed to be surrounded by others who serve me happily and beyond my ability to measure. It’s even better when I drop my pride, ask for help when I need it, and accept with nothing but gratitude. I’m visiting today from the Recharge Wednesday link up. Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I was gently told years ago that I need to ‘let others bless me’ and it was an eye-opener. What an incredible lesson in humility (and not humiliation) we all need to learn.

    Your link at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week is greatly appreciated!!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Sometimes we have to think how others feel when we give none stop and never let them take care of us in anyway. Also I find my husband gives too much and there is an assumption amongst family and some friends that they can actually now just take from us, rather than it being our choice to give. Thanks for linking with #pocolo hope you are keeping well.

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