Photo by _tawcan
For many children, birthdays and holidays unleash a thrilling swirl of getting. Piles of presents and sparkling decorations —so much to take in! As adults our focus shifts as we become the bestower of gifts, the singer of songs, and the magic makers. With maturity we come to embrace the joys on the other side of the equation. The wish list is replaced by the gift list. Despite the many foibles, there is a kernel of magic at the core of our celebrations: the transformative power of giving and receiving.
Remember the story of Stone Soup? Starting with a stone and some water, a delicious meal is created as each villager offers a morsel of carrots, potatoes, etc. to the pot. With every contribution, they progressively create something greater than is individually possible, something nourishing to both the belly and the soul.
This story demonstrates how our well being grows with the free flow of give and take. When we are moved to give, especially a bit more than we’ve taken, we experience an ever upward spiral of positive relationships and benefits. Our lives are enriched as we exchange resources and feel a greater sense of connection, trust, and belonging.
Every giver needs a receiver, and so we personally need to be able to both give and receive for the spiral to ascend. Without this balance, even our closest relationships will wind down, particularly when:
- someone gives all the time. (Raise your hands all you perennial helpers.)
- someone gives less than they generally receive—the takers and the stingy.
- someone is unwilling to receive. (This is also known as fasting, including those who can never tell you what they want. Sigh.)
There are exceptions to this dynamic in the case of caring for children and others who are incapacitated in some way. In these situations it is appropriate for the more able adults to do most of the giving. However, for most of us most of the time, the guidelines above apply.
We first learn about this dynamic with our parents and siblings. Our view of the world—it’s relative abundance and scarcity—is shaped by these relationships which are beyond our control as children. That is why as adults, if we choose, the year’s celebrations can become a time of healing and transformation. In the depths of the darkest seasons we have the opportunity to stretch beyond our usual reach to take in heaps and heaps of the wonderful, and, in return, to be gloriously generous with others.
When celebrations approach, there is still the question of what to give. Fortunately people are their own best clue and tend to give what they want. This is why our practical aunt gives us underwear, our crazy uncle a pet tarantula, and our mom a box of Thank You notes. More clues can be found by considering preferences we have for expressing and feeling love. In Gary Chapman’s Five Languages of Love he offers, you guessed it, five different ways to say I care:
- Words of Affirmation: saying (and meaning!) what you appreciate about someone.
- Acts of Service: helping out in a way that lifts a burden.
- Quality Time: offering undistracted and focused attention (electronic devices off!)
- Gifts: finding just the right gift with an emphasis on thoughtfulness.
- Physical Touch: sharing a warm hug and appropriate affection (relationship dependent, of course).
Again, your loved one’s preference is most often revealed by what they give you. Still not sure? Ask them directly (what a sweet conversation that could be!) or, let them take a free online test. In addition, you can let others know what type of loving rocks your boat. To this end, for anybody with an upcoming celebration, we offer the following Clip and Share:
“What I would really like from you is:_______________________.”
Want to dig a little deeper into your giving and receiving patterns? Explore the questions below and try a 30-day experiment with one person you know.
- Is it easier for you to give or to receive?
- What challenges you with giving? With receiving? How does this impact your relationships?
- Which expressions of love are most important to you and your loved ones?
Choose one relationship you want to change for the better and find a way to modify your behavior over the next 30 days. Always giving? Try pulling back and enjoy receiving. Always taking? Try giving more. Never taking? Tell people what you really want and then really enjoy it.