Giving Receiving and Accepting by Henri Nouwen
Everyone gives, receives and accepts gifts. But not everyone gives it with much thought, neither does everyone receive it with much grace, nor does everyone accept it with thanks and gratitude. Father Henri Nouwen explains about giving, receiving and accepting:
“Giving is very important: giving insight, giving hope, giving courage, giving advice, giving support, giving money, and most of all, giving ourselves. Without giving there is no brotherhood and sisterhood.
But receiving is just as important, because by receiving we reveal to the givers that they have gifts to offer. When we say, ‘Thank you, you give me hope; thank you, you give me a reason to live; thank you, you allowed me to realise my dream,’ we make givers aware of their unique and precious gifts. Sometimes it is only in the eyes of the receivers that givers discover their gifts.” (Bread for the Journey, April 3)
“A gift only becomes a gift when it is received; and nothing we have to give—wealth, talents, competence, or just beauty—will ever be recognized as true gifts until someone opens his hands or heart to accept them.” (Creative Ministry, 17)
“When we accept a gift, we admit others into our world and are ready to give them a place in our lives. If we give gifts to our friends, we expect them to give a place in their home. Ultimately, gifts become gifts only when they are accepted. When gifts are accepted, they acquire a place in the life of the receiver. It is understandable that many people want to give a gift in return as soon as possible, thereby re-establishing the balance and getting rid of any dependence relationship. We often see more trading than accepting. Many of us are even embarrassed with a present because we know not how to reciprocate. ‘It makes me feel obligated,’ we often say.” (With Open Hands, 28)
When a person gives us an idea and if we ignore it, if we don’t accept it, if we don’t think about it, if we don’t mull over it, then the idea will not be used and therefore it is not received. But if we think about it, chew over it, digest it, let it sink into our heart and make use of it, then the new idea becomes ours. Henri Nouwen says,
“When someone gives us a watch but we never wear it, that watch is not really received. When someone offers us an idea but we do not respond to it, that idea is not truly received. When someone introduces us to a friend but we ignore him or her, that friend does not feel well received.
Receiving is an art. It means allowing the other to become part of our lives. It means daring to become dependent on the other. It asks for the inner freedom to say, ‘Without you I wouldn’t be who I am.’ Receiving with the heart is, therefore, a gesture of humility and love.” (Bread for the Journey, April 4)
Similarly, at our baptism, God gives us the Holy Spirit as our Counsellor, Helper and Comforter. God’s gifts to us at our baptism are:
But for us to fully enjoy these gifts, we have to accept the fruits of the Holy Spirit [which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NJB)] into our hearts. How do we do that? We have to chew, mull, reflect and understand these fruits and let them sink into our hearts so that they become ours. Every morning we should then pray for the Holy Spirit to help us to do His will and not our will. We must spend time to ask forGod’s help and to consistently concentrate on nurturing these fruits and, whenever the occasion arises, choose to:
· Be gentle
· Be patient
· Be kind
· Be good
· Be faithful
· Have self-control
As we focus on the Holy Spirit to generate these spiritual gifts in us, we will in time find that our lives will be more loving, joyous, peaceful and hopeful.
But the problem with many of us is that we have difficulty in accepting normal gifts let alone spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit. Henri Nouwen clarifies that, “Perhaps the challenge of the Gospel lies precisely in the invitation to accept a gift for which we can give nothing in return. For the gift is the breath of God, the (Holy) Spirit poured out on us through Jesus Christ. This life breath frees us from fear and gives us new room to live. Those who live prayerfully are constantly ready to receive the breath of God, and to let their lives be renewed and expanded.”(With Open Hands, 30)
After we have accepted the Holy Spirit, what are we supposed to do? Henri Nouwen says, our “Mission is not only to go and tell others about the risen Lord, but also to receive that witness from those to whom we are sent. Often mission is thought of exclusively in terms of giving, but true mission is also receiving. If it is true that the Spirit of Jesus blows where it wants, there is no person who cannot give that Spirit. In the long run, mission is possible only when it is as much receiving as giving, as much being cared for as caring. We are sent to the sick, the dying, the handicapped, the prisoners, and the refugees to bring them the good news of the Lord’s resurrection. But we will soon be burned out if we cannot receive the Spirit of the Lord from those to whom we are sent.
That Spirit, the Spirit of love, is hidden in their poverty, brokenness, and grief. That is why Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the poor, the persecuted, and those who mourn.’ Each time we reach out to them they in turn—whether they are aware of it or not—will bless us with the Spirit of Jesus and so become our ministers. Without this mutuality of giving and receiving, mission and ministry easily become manipulative or violent. When only one gives and the other receives, the giver will soon become an oppressor and the receivers, victims. But when the giver receives and the receiver gives, the circle of love, begun in the community of the disciples, can grow as wide as the world.” (With Burning Hearts, 89)
And what exactly do we receive from the poor? Henri Nouwen says:
“The poor has a treasure to offer precisely because they cannot return our favours. By not paying us for what we have done for them, they call us to inner freedom, selflessness, generosity and true care. Jesus says, ‘When you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again’ (Luke 14:13-14).
The repayment Jesus speaks about is spiritual. It is the joy, peace, and love of God that we so much desire. This is what the poor give us, not only in the afterlife but already here and now.” (Bread for the Journey, Aug 20)
“After a few weeks among the poor in Lima, Peru, I was so impressed by their gifts of joy, peace, and gentleness—notwithstanding their great needs—that I came to realise that my vocation was as much that of receiver as of giver. Perhaps it was more important for me to receive from the poor the many gifts born of their love than for me to try to make myself valuable in their eyes.
For us, however, it far from easy to be receiving people. We so need to take on useful projects, change inefficient ways, and solve burning problems, that a deep change of heart and mind is required of us to become receivers. . . . .
When we come to a clear understanding that we are all brothers and sisters in the house of God—whatever our race, religion, or nationality—we realise that in God there is no distinction between have and have-nots. We all have gifts to offer and a need to receive. I am increasingly convinced that one of the greatest missionary tasks is to receive the fruits of the lives of the poor, the oppressed, and the suffering as gifts offered for the salvation of the rich. . . . ..
We who live in the illusion of control and self-sufficiency must learn true joy, peace, forgiveness, and love from our poor brothers and sisters. Martin Luther King, Jr. considered it just as important for the blacks in the United States to convert the whites as to gain equal rights. Likewise, it is as important for the rich to be converted by the poor, as it is to share their wealth with the poor. As long as we only want to give and resist becoming receivers, we betray our desire to stay in control at all costs. Thus we remain in the house of fear.” (In the House of the Lord, 48-49)
“Many who have worked for years with handicapped people will gladly say that they have received more than they have given. Sometimes they will even confess that they have found their true selves by working with the handicapped. . . .
Handicapped people are very vulnerable. They cannot hide their weaknesses and are therefore easy victims of maltreatment and ridicule. But this same vulnerability also allows them to bear ample fruit in the lives of those who receive them. They are grateful people. They know they are dependent on others and show this dependence every moment; but their smiles, embraces, and kisses are offered as spontaneous expressions of thanks. They know that all is pure gift to be thankful for. They are people who care. When they are locked up in custodial institutions and treated as nobodies, they withdraw and cannot bear fruit. They become overwhelmed by fears and close themselves to others. But when they are given a safe space, with truly caring people whom they can trust, they soon become generous givers who are willing to offer their whole hearts.
Handicapped people help us see the great mystery of fecundity (fruitfulness). They pull us out of our competitive, productive-oriented lives and remind us that we too are handicapped persons in need of love and care. They tell us in many ways that we too do not need to be afraid of our handicap, that we too can bear fruit as Jesus did when He offered His broken body to His Father.” (Lifesigns, 73-74)
Finally, to stay spiritually healthy, we must know when to give, receive and accept gifts. Henri Nouwen says, “It is important to know when we should give attention and when we need attention. Often we are inclined to give and give without asking anything in return. We may think that this is a sign of generosity or even heroism. But it might be little more than a proud attitude that says, ‘I don’t need help from others. I only want to give.’ When we keep giving without receiving we burn out quickly. Only when we pay careful attention to our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs can we be, and remain, joyful givers.
There is a time to give and a time to receive. We need equal time for both if we want to live healthy lives.” (Bread for the Journey, July 11)