The Other Side of Giving

Credit: Rachel Sarai on Flickr via Creative Commons

Credit: Rachel Sarai on Flickr via Creative Commons

In high school and college, I was always the broke one in a group. My family didn’t have money, yet I’d stumbled into social circles with kids who didn’t have that problem. Seems I was always running into the issue of either making up excuses for not joining them in one outing or another, or fessing up that I didn’t have the cash. The idea of being the mooch was painfully embarrassing, so I usually tried the lying route first. Problem was it turns out I am a terrible liar. My face turns red, my voice gets shaky, and I can’t make eye contact. So I would get called out and three or four people would chip in for the concert ticket, movie stub, or midnight Steak ‘n’ Shake run.

One friend in particular, an older guy who had a really good job and an insane love for generosity, often chastised me pretty harshly for my pride in not accepting help. For a long time I was confused by the accusation; I felt like the most shameful, least prideful person in the world. What nineteen-year-old is proud to be broke all the time? It took years for me to understand that he was right. My inability to receive was indeed rooted in pride, the shame of being seen as weak or needy or dependent. Whether it was accepting help in carrying a heavy box, a listening ear when I was heartbroken, or cash for new tires I felt an almost physical pain whenever someone offered me anything to meet my needs.

Turns out too much independence isn’t the greatest thing for relationships. I’ve struggled to accept help from friends, even people I’ve dated, most of my life. And I’ve found that rather than causing the people in my life to regard me as a blessing because I’m not a burden, it mostly makes them feel shut out and impotent. I read another blog about this struggle recently and it reminded me that my only options in relationship are interdependence, or isolation. I can’t live with and among and in relationship with others when I refuse anything offered to me. Love insists on being expressed, given away.

We’ve all heard that it’s greater to give than to receive, and this is an important reality. Living life with open hands toward others is a beautiful thing. However, open hands are necessary on both sides of the exchange. You can open your hands to me with all sorts of gifts and blessings, but if I only respond with crossed arms or balled fists then your gifts waste away ungiven. And we both end up barren, starving for the offer and receipt of love.

And you receivers – and you are all receivers – assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives. Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings; for to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father.

~ Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”



  1. Eric M. said,

    November 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I’m awful at this. I love giving and even receiving gifts, but unexpected generosity always breaks through my barriers and leaves me feeling vulnerable. I struggle to accept kindness even from those closest to me.

    • MandyK said,

      November 21, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      We all are bad at this…which is what makes Gibran’s quote so profound 🙂

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