I remember growing up believing that their were two types of people in the world — the givers and the takers. It seemed to be a lesson in the idea that giving was a construct of good and taking was somehow bad. What was absent in that life lesson was the art of receiving which is quite different than taking.
These thoughts have been running through my mind for several days now. Last Friday I watched a video posted by my friend Kim Halsey. Kim recently retired from Corporate America and is now living her heart’s desires and teaching others to do the same through her business Leading With Heart.
Toward the end of her video, Kim talks about the vulnerability and courage it sometimes takes to just simply receive. After watching the video I had a bit of a flashback to a very similar moment in my life, when just feeling humble enough to receive with no expectation of repayment hit me hard.
Relationships can change you. Especially bad relationships. They can alter your way of thinking and behaving. Expectations you have of yourself can be altered in dramatic ways.
I remember three very distinct moments in my life which distorted and then reshaped my views on giving and receiving.
There was a time in my life I was in a particularly bad marriage. I will not go through all the trauma associated with this time in my life because it is not important any longer. What is important are the continued lessons that come out of that time
- It was December and we planned a trip across country for the holiday. Because of the expense we agreed we would not buy presents for each other. The tree was decorated, the kids presents tucked underneath the tree awaiting our return home. When we came back, I discovered a gift under the tree for me – a present containing a VERY expensive piece of jewelry we simply could not afford. I, of course, had not purchased a gift – I kept my word. I felt horrible trying to receive this gift because it was one-sided and a violation of the promise we had made.
- Fast forward years later to my 12th wedding anniversary. Things were falling apart in the marriage at a very rapid rate. I had come off a week of intense arguments and extreme levels of stress in the relationship. At work the receptionist phoned and said there was a delivery for me on its way to my office. We worked in an open cubicle environment where everyone could see you at all times. I was caught off guard when a florist arrived with 12 dozen long stemmed roses. Another over-the-top gift. Again, something we could not afford. The ruckus in the office was a full barrage of adoration and comments like “you are so lucky”, and “I wish someone loved me like that” and “does he have a brother” and on and on. I felt sick to my stomach knowing there was a price associated with this gift. Meanwhile, at home, my now-ex was so sure of himself and asked my daughter if she thought I could stay mad at him now? Trust me, I learned that gifts are not always from the heart and often the act of receiving had a huge cost – it was manipulation.
- Fast forward to the day of my eventual divorce. Believe me, I was mouthy about it. I took the day off work and told everyone I was going to go get drunk to celebrate. Of course, I was not going to celebrate the demise of my marriage. It was a failure after all. My failure. I left the courthouse and came home and decided to mow my overgrown lawn. I had an old used lawnmower that choked out on me all the time. The blades were dull and the grass was high. I would get about 15 yards and the machine would die. I was sitting on the floor in the garage taking the lawnmower apart trying to fix it when my son came home from school. As he stepped off the bus, our elderly neighbor called for him to stop at her house. Moments later I looked up to see my son pushing her brand new lawnmower across the street toward our house. My son said, “Mrs. D wants you to use her mower.” I looked up, covered in grass clippings and motor oil and just started to bawl. “Why are you crying, mom? This is a good thing, isn’t it?” Indeed it was.
That day mowing my lawn was a turning point. I realized how powerful it is to simply receive with grace and gratitude. I had spent 15 years determined to do everything on my own and not to ask anything of anyone. In the receiving of this gift, I was brought to my knees. I was humbled. Gifts could be given full of heart and good intention without expectations of anything in return.
I still struggle with receiving, but I am better at it now than ever before. I resist the feeling that I need to reciprocate in some way. The beauty of receiving is to acknowledge that you are seen and you are loved and the gift is quite simply just a gift from the heart.