11 Days of Christmas: The Gifts of Giving and Receiving

Like many of you, I was taught that it’s better to give than to receive. But what does that saying really mean, and why is it that giving is better than receiving? This concept seems unfair and a bit ironic. After all, the act of giving requires two energies, two actions: one to give, and one to receive. It’s literally a give and take, a yin and yang.

Among my efforts to learn to be more kind to myself, I have been contemplating my attitudes regarding the act of giving and receiving.  As a woman, I get a lot of satisfaction from giving to others. I enjoy giving to my family, my job, my friends, my community.  Sure, there are times I feel depleted. I give and give and give, then eventually, I “give” out.  It’s hard to put ourselves on a list with equal importance to others. It’s hard to balance the filling of my own reserves with the filling of others.

When it comes to receiving, I am a lot less comfortable. It can be downright difficult for me to accept gifts from other people. For example, if you give me a compliment, I play it down. If you like my outfit, I’ll say I got it on sale for next to nothing.  If you give me an extravagant gift or if I haven’t one to give back to you in return, I feel terrible. In moments like these, rather than acknowledge the “real gift”, which is the thoughtfulness and generosity on the part of the “giver”, I realize my reactions completely undermine their actions and good intentions. My feelings of embarrassment or feelings that I am undeserving turn these expression of kindness and generosity into an “all about me” moment.

It’s important to remember that in the complimentary acts of giving and receiving, material goods are not what really matter. What lies behind the gift is far less visible and less tangible, but it is what is the most real.

One of my favorite Christmas stories is O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magic. In this classic tale, a young couple who are financially very poor but very rich in love other sacrifice their most important possessions in order to give each other Christmas gifts that are worthy of their love. The first time I heard it, I could not believe the ending. Such an ironic twist. Yet it’s essence captures something nearly impossible to articulate about giving…
The magic.

I enjoyed this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Eat, Pray, Love.

“In the end though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives.

In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely for as long as we have voices.”