My office is a mess of Christmas preparation. Hidden gifts and festive paper bags litter the floor. I savor the mess that comes so often with motherhood and I am filled with gratitude.
A few weeks ago, I was hiking and listening to Cathy Heller’s Thanksgiving episode on the Don’t Keep Your Day Job podcast and one of her guest’s that day, Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld said, “The greatest gift you can give to another person is to receive from that person.”
I’ve been marinating that quote in my mind for the last four weeks, throughout the four weeks of advent -this waiting season in which we remember how God decided to come into this world to hang out with humanity. This idea that receiving can be the greatest gift we give to another led me to thinking about how God sent Himself as a gift for us to receive. God a gift for me into the suffering, into the oppression and into the beautiful messy moments of love and light.
I’ve been wondering about God’s decision to enter into this journey, this human life as first a developing fetus and then as an infant. God's intentional divine decision to start from the very beginning. To model the fact that every single one of us starts with the need to receive. A baby cannot live without accepting what the mother offers from the time of conception and what the caregiver provides for many years.
So God was conceived and birthed into human existence with the same neediness as you and I. I've been wondering, what lessons might this hold?
In my learning about attachment and how human beings develop secure attachment, the acts of giving and receiving are highly elevated. In fact a securely attached adult can both:
2. Receive Love
In the work I’ve done to understand my own attachment style better, I’ve realized that receiving has been hard for me. Receiving love, allowing others to give to me. Accepting their gifts without feeling like I now owe them something. Messages like I can do this myself; I don’t need your help; I’ve got it all under control; are the messages that existed on the surface for most of my life.
In the last four years, the breaking open of my heart has allowed for a restructuring of my beliefs around receiving. Over the last year, I have attempted to spend time in an intentional stance of surrender. Allowing my hands to loosen their grip, my hypervigilance to dehype and my heart to open to receiving the gifts of love that surround me all the time.
As an educator, I know that one of the best ways to help a learner understand new material and build a new skill set is to model the concepts necessary for mastery.
If I want my children to speak kindly, I must model kind speech. If I want my children to learn how to put their clothes in the laundry basket, I can model how to do that. (This is actually a hard one for me) And if I want my children to open their hearts to receive love from me, I must model opening my heart to receive love from others.
When I was a child, my parents asked my siblings and me to give a gift to Jesus each Christmas. This memory resurfaced in a moment of pondering this concept of giving and receiving. I remember asking, but HOW? and I remember wishing I could draw like my brother, but instead playing a song on my flute. My sister doing a ballet dance. My dad playing guitar and singing an old hymn. My mom baking a treat for her King. I don’t know how many years they asked us to do this, and I remember every year they did that it felt challenging. I also remember in the moments of sharing our gifts with Jesus, we also were sharing them with each other.
So this year, I added this idea into our advent activities. My children are expressing some resistance, but today there have been ideas beginning to take shape. A Minecraft Jesus. A mirror of art because God is beautiful. I write this post today and even as I move between typing these letters and pulling clothes out of the dryer, I ask God, what would you like me to share? Can this gift be a testimony to your love? Do you know that I finally am getting how wonderful it is to trust You?
And I hear back. A pulsating silence that contains within it a message to my soul. Whatever you have to offer is good. It is worthy. Your love is what I long for. My love is yours to have - no conditions.
On the surface my closed stance to receiving love looked like a culturally celebrated trait: self-reliance. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see a soul wound that resounds a lack of self-worth. I am not worthy to receive love, I am not good enough for this good gift, I am not…
But that is not what God said. From the very beginning God said that I am good. You are good. God said, I love you so much I’ll send Jesus to come - not to condemn. Never to condemn. I’ll send Jesus to save. To be a model of my profound and life-changing love for you.
And this model. This beautiful and life-giving and love-giving model is going to start in humanity as a baby. A baby who must RECEIVE every single thing in order to grow into a man. A man who will change the course of eternity. A man who will live out perfect love. A man who will be tempted and tried, persecuted and pinned to a cross and who ultimately will look to the heavens and say “It is finished.” And the veil will be torn so that the presence of God will enter fully into this world, and you will be able to receive that presence and live with that love pouring into you if you only will just receive it.
We have a God who loves to receive. A God who was born into the world with the same design with which He created us, a design meant to give love and to receive it.
We have a God who models this tenant of secure attachment.
A God who enjoys receiving love as much as He enjoys to give it.
God's love of receiving is not about Him or the actual getting.
God's love of receiving is about giving you the gift of knowing that what you have to offer is good. It is enough. It is beautiful and worthy for sharing.
And in this understanding, I can see how the greatest gift we can give another is the act of openly receiving whatever it is they have to offer. To let another person know that the gifts they bring are worthy.
The shepherd's brought bowed heads. It was enough.
Mary gave her milk and Joseph gave his name. It was enough.
The Kings brought gifts of gold. It was enough.
Our King received the gifts offered - big and small.
Jesus, a model of how it can look to receive from the moment He was breathed into humanity.
As you wrap (and possibly buy) the final presents. As you consider the joy on the other side of each gift, may you also consider the joy it gives God when we allow ourselves to receive love. From God. From other people. From ourselves.
God made you.
You are good.
You are worthy of love. Both the giving of love and the receiving of love.
That was declared from the very beginning.
Are you ready to receive it?