(Belated) Thanksgiving Thoughts

Acts 20:35: In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Yes, we should have an attitude of giving, without focusing so much on what we will receive. But giving and receiving really are tied- we can give selfishly/resentfully just as we can receive poorly. I read an article by Martha Beck (here!) talking about how American culture has become particularly bad at receiving. And “giving thanks” is the literal meaning of thanksgiving- but too often when receiving a gift, we wonder whether we really deserve it, or feel indebted to reciprocate in some way. Receiving becomes about worthiness, and this connects directly to our habits of giving as well- “do they really deserve that, will they reciprocate my generosity?” Whether it’s giving thanks for compliments, life situation, gifts- being unable to honestly say “thank you” means  an inability to fully accept and appreciate. This can even apply as an internal rejection of appreciating oneself, afraid of being too self-centered. Beck argues that “as you teach your own charity to outlast such opinions while giving to other people, you’ll release yourself from having to meet certain criteria (repayment, neediness, poverty) when you are given something.”

She also asserts that this is essential, since “In the long run, we can’t stay emotionally healthy without accepting gifts, both concrete and intangible. Refusing to receive leaves us chronically empty, prone to addiction, obsession, codependency, or an eternal psychological hunger that’s never quite satisfied. The healthy alternative is to stop merely closing down and learn to receive wisely, fully accepting good gifts without being damaged by bad ones”

The hardest gift to accept is grace/mercy- something we definitely don’t deserve. And this is essential to faith: God’s gift of forgiveness acceptance and love toward us. We should model this toward others: Not to copy God, but because it should change us- we are not earning salvation, but rather living into the gift.

It is still important to recognize that “it is more blessed to give than receive”- this was and still is counterintuitive, and a way of countering selfish tendencies. But I personally feel that this message can be skewed too far, to the point we are no longer able to fully appreciate gifts without feeling some sort of guilt or obligation, when really receiving gifts should be an essential component of our lives.

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