Your ability to receive can tell you more about your self-worth than your ability to give.

Sometimes a gift is better received than given. I always thought it was the other way around and often still find myself uncomfortable receiving gifts, praise, attention, or compliments. I firmly adopted the message early on that it was prideful and/or evidence of need for external validation.  Therefore I became crafty at avoiding it at all cost. The church and self help worlds both supported my theory and gave me permission to give and live in generosity as a means to experience humility, joy, and happiness.  It wasn’t until I realized that giving was a process that did not work without someone’s ability to receive, that my paradigm started to shift.  Turns out love and relationships are much the same.

Several years ago after a few trips with a medical mission team overseas, I noticed a pattern. We were going to spread hope and lift the spirits of kids without means, who were suffering. We provided much needed resources to hopefully make their lives better so they could experience happiness and joy.  Although we helped them medically, they seemed to be happier than any of us. I realized we were giving so we could receive and maybe without knowing.  We got as much out of the trips as we were offering by being around grateful people who were unconsciously teaching us the art of happiness. Though this example seemed obvious, how does this play out back home and in our daily lives?

How many times a day or week do we shuck and jive to avoid receiving help, compliments, gifts, and others offering us their seat or spot in line? This happens with strangers and especially with those closest to us.  And when we do, how much are we robbing others from experiencing the gift of giving due to our discomfort in receiving?  It turns out that receiving is way more vulnerable than giving. When we give we can control the emotional climate and therefore predict the outcome. Receiving means our emotional response is on display and our shame buttons are out front for the moment to push as it pleases. If you can relate to me (and most everyone) and occasionally deal with your own worthiness challenges you may unconsciously avoid attention at all cost unless you can control it. Always giving and never receiving creates a validation trap that can leave you never getting enough and therefore depleting yourself and your loved ones while on the desperate hunt for worth. Elements of this will most likely happen regardless and it’s not all bad. When we are aware of where our needs end and others began, we can work on balancing the scale and become more loving and effective givers. Often the biggest gift we can give is humbly and graciously receiving from another. Though it may seem counter intuitive, it can be good practice. God longs for us to slow down and receive His love as much as He wants us to chase and spread His message. Without it, we are sharing words and theory rather than grace and love. When we receive, we are mirroring to others the power of giving.

Recently, on a trip with friends to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, to visit with Isis Refugee camps and a Restore International school, this lesson was on display. When we arrived at the first camp, the kids seemed enthusiastic to see us. Mostly they were surprised that anyone had shown up at all to see them. The frontlines of the ISIS dispute are only 30 miles from the camp, and therefore visitors and aid were limited. If you know Bob Goff, you know this is one of many areas where he shines. Spreading love, joy, and hope in a way few can match. He lives it and quickly led the way that day. With a pocket full of balloons, we started to connect with the kids and smiles erupted amongst these little war torn heroes. We also had a backpack full of beads and string to make jewelry. Imagine Christmas morning or when your dog greets you after a vacation.  That’s the kind of joy and excitement that erupted when we started making bracelets. I had never made a necklace or bracelet until that day, but you would never know it. According to this crew I was a world-renowned designer making rare one-of-a-kind pieces in real time. One young man got my attention by literally pulling on my ear. I kept trying to give him supplies to fend him off, but he was insistent on giving me something in return. First it was a cloth, next a balloon, and then a bead. He was on a mission. He would take a piece of jewelry from me, scurry off to deliver it to the others who were scared to come out of the tents, then bring back a gift upon his return. At first, I rejected his offering not wanting him to think I needed anything in return. Then I realized he wanted to experience what I was experiencing. He wanted to see me smile and receive in gratitude. He wanted to give. By giving, I made him smile, and by receiving I gave him dignity that lifted both of our spirits.

The next day we arrived at Restore International’s new school full of excited students. We were there to see and assure that they could continue receiving much needed resources and education. When we turned the corner, we were greeted with a street full of kids and teachers holding balloons, flowers, banners, and shouting our names in unison. We had come to give and were met with a receiving line of love and grace. They were dressed in their best and had been planning this moment. They wanted to surprise us, see our faces, bring us joy, and experience the gift of giving. They pulled it off beautifully as they shouted “Mr. Bob, Mr. Bob, Mr. Bob, Mr. Bob,” as if the President had arrived. Bob gave them the best gift possible by receiving with utter amazement. One by one, they gave flowers and other tokens, and Bob recognized each of them out loud for their courage, bravery, and love. Click here for video.

We traveled on from there visiting homes, camps, and political leaders in Kurdistan, Iraq, and Abu Dhabi, all of which required us to receive as a sign of dignity and respect to those we were there to learn from and support.  The Kurds were simply amazing, and they took us in, fed us, and shared their culture, as we talked about freedom and hope. Our one agenda to love well and spread hope and kindness was received and given back in a special way. Differences evaporated and opposing viewpoints were respected and valued. No one had the upper hand and power was balanced. Those who perceivably had little had a lot to give. I traveled there scared and unsure due to the media and instability of the region, and I left fulfilled and trusting by receiving and experiencing the power of community.

Shortly after and back in my home environment, I noticed that compliments and offers to help were landing in a different way. I felt centered in my worth enough to give others the gift of giving. Although I may still squirm when needing others, they will likely get a genuine thank you instead of a quick change of the subject.  When people show up in distress needing help, allow them to also help you. Although it’s easier to compliment and give people fish when their hungry, receiving from others when they feel they have nothing to offer can teach them to fish again. You will provide them with far more than resources; you will provide them with worth and value. We all deserve to be seen, heard, and valued, not just in our best moments and highest accomplishments, but also in our darkest hours. Giving and receiving is the core of relationships and “doing relationship” will allow us to see more than just our perspective. Our ability to receive others’ perspective will keep us out of judgment and into love. God smiles and love wins when everyone has a seat at the table. All we must do is receive.