How many times has someone offered to give you something and, even though you could use it, you refused? “A dear friend of mine offered to buy me a beautiful watch with crushed opals in the face, but I just couldn’t let him do it.” “Let me help you clean up. No, that’s okay, I know where everything goes, and it’ll be easier just to do it myself.” “Can I give you a lift? No, I already bought my bus ticket, so I’d better use it!”
Often we find ourselves refusing help, gifts, even companionship from dear friends and family. There’s just something about it that is hard to accept. The question is, what is spiritual about receiving, when we’ve been taught that it is better to give than to receive?
Let’s take a look at what might motivate this resistance to receiving. Do you have the belief that a little receiving is good, but too much receiving is selfish? On the other hand, you might be indebted to the giver, dependent on them in some way. Now you owe them a favor in this give-and-take accounting. Rather than be obligated, it might be easier not to accept their offer. Besides, some people use giving as a way to buy your love or to weasel in to get something for themselves. If giving is manipulative, it would be safer not to receive.
It could basically be a trust issue. “My son relies on me. I f I rely on someone else and they betray me, then I’m putting my son at risk.” If you open yourself up to receiving from someone, you could get burned. Or they could betray you or let you down. Perhaps it is better not to let anyone in. It is certainly safer than being vulnerable to heartache. I don’t need anyone to help me. I can do this myself. If I don’t receive from you, you won’t get close to me and you can’t hurt me.
Underneath, perhaps you feel a deep sense of unworthiness. Let’s face it, how many of us feel a strong sense of self worth? One of the most common problems holding us back from being our full potential is a nagging (or full-blown!) sense of inadequacy, lack of self worth, guilt or shame. Frequently, children take on the responsibility and guilt for everything around them, including divorce, abandonment, abuse and molestation. They make a limiting decision that somehow they weren’t good enough, for if they were, it wouldn’t have happened. This could turn into becoming a people pleaser. “I felt so unworthy as a kid that when I would baby-sit, if the parents offered me a glass of juice or cookie, I couldn’t even accept because of a deep gnawing feeling of being unworthy.”
If the above didn’t light up your circuits about receiving, perhaps you are selfish and think the world owes you a living! Or maybe you are well-balanced with a healthy sense of self worth, trust, security and appropriate boundaries. The discussion so far isn’t so much about reasons why it is not okay to receive, as it is indicators or signals for an opportunity for personal growth. Our relationship to receiving is a way of ferreting out our own issues of trust, safety, betrayal, self worth, guilt and shame. I once asked a client who couldn’t open to receiving, to open up to receive the warmth of the sun. He couldn’t even accept that until he cleared issues with his own self worth!
Suppose the many times we shut ourselves off from receiving actually blocks our spirituality? To open one’s heart up to God, to spirituality, even to love and connectedness requires receiving in the highest sense. Accepting something (that you feel is appropriate to accept) can actually be turned into a spiritual practice. For example, the next time someone compliments you, allow that to feed your self-worthiness, opening your heart to the grace of receiving. Receiving may be the highest form of connectedness and spirituality!
A suggested exercise is to build up a tolerance to receiving without feeling guilty. While writing this article, I was practicing “receiving” and noticing my own reactions. Friends appeared from every corner to push my “receiving” buttons with compliments and helpful gestures. Sometimes I gracefully received, and sometimes I resisted, thought of ways to pay back or felt undeserving. I hadn’t been aware of how many times I shunned receiving. It got better: yesterday I sneezed in Home Depot, and two separate people immediately said “God bless you!” I smiled at the grace.