A few years ago, I had a conversation with some very dear friends of mine about accepting help. Seems like so much of my life I have been in the position of accepting gifts and financial help to get by...and after a while it is SOO hard to accept even one more. I told my friends I didn't want to NEED like that any more...that I wanted to be able to be the one to GIVE. And yet, I felt like all I ever did was take, take, take.
Fast forward to several weeks ago. I had a visitor at my house who offered to fix several of the things that need to be fixed around my house. Things that are somewhat "big" tasks for me because I just don't have the knowledge or skill...but would have been "small" tasks for this friend who offered help. I said "No" to every offer of assistance that day because I just wanted to be able to visit...gift denied.... Why didn't I just accept it and let my friend help me?
Then just yesterday, I was at the grocery store. I was in line...waiting....waiting....waiting...with my single loaf of bread in my hand. When I sat it on the counter behind the items of the people in line ahead of me, the woman said to me "oh, go ahead of us. We haven't stared yet and you have only one thing. You don't have to wait on us!!" "Oh no!" I said, "I'm fine. I don't need to." The look she gave me was precious! She insisted I go ahead saying, "Just let someone do something nice!"
I went ahead of them. Grateful, somewhat embarrassed and feeling a little guilty. But the smile on her face showed me that by accepting her small gift, she also received joy.
Why? Why was it so hard to accept that tiny little bit of help? And then I got to thinking about it a little harder....what if I had refused altogether?
How does it make us feel to offer help to someone? I have offered the same thing many times...I love letting someone go ahead of me to make their day just a little lighter. It's a great feeling to be helpful! So why would I deny that feeling to someone else? Why break the chain of spreading little bits of kindness?
A couple years ago, my family was the recipients of a "12 Days of Christmas" gift spree. It was soooo much fun. Each day we were surprised by a gift on our porch. It came at different times...sometimes we were home, sometimes we were not. Sometimes there was a knock, sometimes there wasn't. The gifts were lovely and sometimes it was overwhelming in the sheer bounty in the package. My kids would get so excited to see what was going to come each day. Sometimes they tried to keep watch on the porch....but we talked about that. Whoever was doing this wanted to remain anonymous. The joy we received by accepting these gifts was, I am quite sure, matched by the joy the giver received to leave those packages. I imagined them laughing along with us as we unwrapped each item and shared our excitement with each other. And I encouraged my children not to ruin their fun by trying to "catch" them.
Accepting help has a tendency to make us feel weak, vulnerable, guilty, indebted. How can I ever pay back some of the kindnesses that have been offered to me and my family? In a lot of ways, I can't. I cannot tell you how many Christmases I have been able to buy gifts for my children....ONLY because of the kindness of friends and sometimes even secret gift-givers. I may never be able to afford to give monetarily like I have received...but I CAN give in so many other ways - my time, my place in line, extras I may have, my talents and skills and abilities, listening...and sometimes, just sitting silently by and quietly offering a shoulder or a hand and no words.
I think that God uses these moments as teaching moments for us. It is not a weakness to need help once in a while. It is a part of life. Sometimes we simply receive. And the moment will come when we can also give. Grace. Always grace. God provides opportunities for both. It's what we do with those opportunities that counts.
And so I move forward...living gratefully for the gifts I receive...and the gifts I can give....
Intense love does not measure, it only gives. ~Mother Teresa