There can be something about being on the receiving end of much kindness that is unsettling.
All of us have heard something to the effect of, “I am more comfortable giving to people than I am receiving from people.” It is a good, nice, healthy (mostly) sentiment. After all, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35)
Ah, but within the full context of the verse lies the rub: “In everything I did, showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Christ himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than receive.’”
I heard a pastor once say in a sermon that human beings ultimately want three things: credit, control and choice. But our lives are not guaranteed any one of these. In fact when we think we can master, manage or possess any one of the three we are living an illusion.
During this time of cancer treatment I understand and accept my lack of control and choice. But I was surprised to realize how strong that desire for credit was operating within me.
I’m aware that I am not contributing that much to others at this point in my life and I don’t like it. I never thought before that serving others was for any kind if credit but of late I am beginning to wonder. The way that has been exposed in me was not in ways I would have imagined. Let me explain. There are not too many days that have gone by since my cancer diagnosis that I have not received a card, email, text, gift ,flowers, an inspirational book or some other token of love. In the beginning each outpouring of encouragement was met with joy and appreciation. My self-worth and self-esteem were not only intact but also bolstered by the kindnesses shown to me by others. But as time and the protracted treatment process marched on something began to change. It only became apparent recently and I didn’t like what I was seeing. I had descended into something I will call “credit deficit despondency.” At the beginning of this treatment journey the memory of my service to others was still fresh as it had not been very long ago that I was that person who enjoyed and drew a lot of purpose and satisfaction from busily assisting others. I sensed God’s call on my life and I felt equipped to do what he had called me to do. I felt special in what I was doing. Along came cancer. I was not prepared for the long treatment and its many compromises and preoccupations.
The days, weeks and months were now dimming the memory of my time as a useful service-oriented person. But still the faithful encouragement of others was coming my way. How unbelievable that people were not bored with me and my progress because I was certainly bored with myself. Credit deficits were mounting.
I realized that on some level I didn’t want unconditional love. I wanted love based on contribution and performance. I had been spoon fed this since a baby. Haven’t we all? It is the way of our culture. We say we want unconditional love but really we want to be loved for a reason. And we believe we deserve it. We’ve earned the credits for it to happen. We either have some gift, talent, virtue, service, sacrifice, personality or special something that earns us the affection and love of those who mean something to us. And we control it. Of course this is not a fully conscious understanding of ourselves or certainly it wasn’t of me until I was put in a position of not being able to do much to effect any kind of positive change. It began as a slow creep accompanying the snail mail of cards painstakingly picked out, handwritten, addressed, stamped and sent out. Ouch! The credit deficit was mounting. I could not control it and I had no choice in it.
So, what was I to do about this? It didn’t feel good or right. After all my many years as a Christian I had to go back to Christianity 101 – the basics. I am a sinner who received God’s grace (undeserved mercy and love through his death on the cross to secure my forgiveness now and forever). I had and have no good deed credits to offer him that influences his unconditional offer of love and forgiveness. I have the promise of being with him now and forever.
The psalmist says that, “God’s loving kindnesses are new each morning.” Unconditionally, they are offered to us. Christ is not interested in credit surplus or deficit. He’s interested in us “getting Him.” He knows “we are but dust” but he loves us and offers Himself unconditionally. When we get that – more personally when I get it – my heart breaks. The worthless attempts to validate myself empty out and then there is room to be “built up and rooted in Christ’s love” and “to be still and know that He is God.” And somehow I am changed by that in a good way. I can receive and I can give. And His love is never impressed one way or the other and that is good news.
So, back to Acts 20:36 and the bottom line: I have freedom to be weak whether emotionally, physically or spiritually. When I am strong I have freedom to work hard to help the weak (as so many of you have done for me in recent months)…..not for credit but for the simple reason that God loves the weak and it feels good to help when we can. That is truly good news.