ktuckerWhen I was three or four, my older brother Kevin was in kindergarten. He got to do so many interesting things, while I stayed home.

One day he got to go to with his class on a field trip to the local Sunbeam Bread bakery (factory). Later that evening, before dinner, he told us about his adventure—how he got to see the dough rising in the pans and how the pans rolled into the oven on conveyer belts.

I suddenly felt the stab of unfairness and envy.

Then, to make it worse, Kevin took out from somewhere a little package, a miniature loaf of bread in its own little adorable red and yellow plastic wrapper. It was the souvenir each child was given at the end of the tour.

When he held it up and showed us, I exploded in a crying fit: He got to go and I didn’t; he got a prize and I didn’t, wah wah wah, it’s not fair….  It was a real 3-1/2 year-old “I’m at the end of my rope” tantrum.

As I was doing this, I saw Kevin’s face fall, and my folks’ faces fall. In the midst of my self-pity party I had not taken even a second to see what was coming next—that Kevin had been on the verge of handing that little treasure to me because he wanted his little sister to have and enjoy his souvenir from the bakery.

His innocent heart had been holding me all along. Something in me immediately grasped the nature of the wrong I had done. Somewhere inside I grasped that by being a whining little horse’s ass, I had derailed what could’ve been a joyful generous moment. By being a really rotten receiver I had turned a potential party into one sad, sour situation. And I felt so bad that the only way I knew to apologize was to cry harder.

It was one of my first glimpses into the truth that how we receive matters. That receiving is the key to something.

So I asked members of my congregation: what’s hard about receiving? Here’s some of what I heard:

Giving is more acceptable; it’s the power position.
The Bible tells us so.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
(From the Book of Acts, which quotes Paul, who says he’s quoting Jesus.)
I don’t know; I just know giving gets most of the good press.
It’s better—stronger—to be the helper.
“We are all here on earth to help others,”
goes the quote. What the others are here for, I don’t know.
Sometimes, one person said, it’s hard to receive because we have a problem with the giver.

Scholar Stephen J. Patterson points out that Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan gets misinterpreted much of the time. In the story a man is beaten, robbed and left for dead, and two would-be helpers pass him right by. Then a Samaritan stops and helps, binds up the man’s wounds and takes him to an inn.

Usually this story is told to encourage us to stop and help. “Be a good Samaritan.”  It’s told as a story about giving. But as a story told by Jesus to Jewish peasants, this would not be a story about giving.  Jewish peasants would not identify with the Samaritan. They would identify with the one beat up and lying in a ditch.

Jesus is saying, if you were beat up and left for dead, who would you let help you? For a Jew, the Samaritan was the despised enemy, the unclean “other,” the one you’d never choose to be your EMT. So Jesus was asking his people: What are your limits when it comes to community?  Can you let yourself be helped by an untouchable?

Would you let this Samaritan haul you to the inn? Would you run the risk of being seen with him and having people wonder if you are one of “them”?
A few brave people said said receiving is hard because you don’t believe you deserve the gift.
Or: you don’t want to bother anyone; everyone’s overloaded.
Or they said: If I start asking for what I need I may fall into a big abyss of my neediness and never climb out.
Or they said: If I receive, I’ll owe. I’ll need to pay back, and maybe I won’t be able to.
One person said: I’m not a good receiver because I don’t have the energy or the time to figure out what I need to receive and then to ask for it.  It’s just easier to tough it out and do it myself.
Or they said: I’d like to be a good receiver, but I don’t know how. I haven’t had much practice.

candyBut I would just say that for those of us who haven’t had practice, opportunities will come. In the great cycle of life, opportunities to practice receiving will arrive.

Sometimes giving and receiving are so overlapped and intertwined we can’t hope to tease them apart. Giving turns into receiving and receiving turns into giving. As the song by Joseph and Nathan Segal in our UU hymnbook puts it:

From you I receive, to you I give.
Together we share,
and from this we live.

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