My ex-husband bought me a waffle maker for Christmas. Well, technically, my kids “bought” me a waffle maker for Christmas, but I know they don’t get that kind of money from their allowance. A few weeks ago, when my ex dropped the kids off on Sunday morning, he brought in a large box and stuck it under my tree. I immediately became nervous because I knew that he spent a fair amount of money on a gift for me, and I certainly had not done the same for him. Helping the kids buy presents for their dad somehow fell off my to-do list this December; I know the two oldest used some of their own money to buy a few trinkets for him at the school’s “Santa’s Workshop”, but the youngest didn’t get him anything. His generous funding of the kids’ gift to me left me feeling awkward—first that I had not helped them reciprocate equally and secondly because I wasn’t sure what the inspiration for his generosity was. Guilt over his past actions? A desire to make himself feel better and to be a ‘good’ person by being nice to his ex-wife? A desire to soften my heart and possibly make it more forgiving? But then, on Christmas morning, as I unwrapped my present, I saw the excited faces of my children intent on my reaction. They knew what I wanted most and were filled with joy as they watched me open their gift to me. I felt my heart soften and a little voice in the back of my mind whispered Receive, just receive.
During the last two weeks I have been inundated with treats and little gifts from friends, neighbors, and coworkers. The bounty has been particularly large this year for some reason and my kitchen counter is still covered in goodies. Although I had planned to bake treats with my children, the late start for Christmas vacation and the end-of-the-year crunch at work left me with little time to make things. Most of the people giving me gifts were not on my list of those I planned to give to. I started to feel a bit of panic that I was not prepared to return the favor to all my generous friends. But then, in the back of my mind I heard that voice again: Receive, just receive.
On Monday night my home teachers stopped by with a plate of cookies, and a gift card from the ward ‘giving tree’. I felt a little embarrassed about the gift card; although I’m a single parent, I have a good stable income and did not think I was in the group of intended recipients for donations (and I thought in the past I had made that clear to the bishop). However, as I took the gift card, I found myself smiling and saying thank you as the voice came again: Receive, just receive.
Every year at Christmas we hear countless stories about the blessings of giving. Even my young children have absorbed the message that it is better to give than to receive. I think this is true, but I also think that sometimes our emphasis on giving makes us reluctant to receive. We all fear being thought ungrateful, entitled, or selfish. I watch myself and other women I know deflect compliments, decline offers of help, and bustle around trying to find an appropriate gift that will match or surpass something they have received. Instead of joy and peace, sometimes the offerings of others bring anxiety and guilt.
In trying to understand more that this recent prompting was trying to tell me, I turned to the scriptures. I found numerous scriptures about receiving the word of God, receiving His grace, receiving the Holy Ghost, receiving talents and blessings, receiving His image in our countenances, and receiving the teachings of God’s servants. A receptive heart is a softened heart, one that is open to the blessings of God. I read what Luke writes about Mary, that her response to the Angel Gabriel’s news was a generous “behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”. Later, Luke writes that after the miraculous birth of the Savior, Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Mary’s heart was open to the teachings of the Lord and his blessings in her life; she was ready to receive what was offered to her.
At the end of this holiday season and the start of a new year, I am determined to keep listening to that voice in my heart that tells me to receive. I have spent the last few years recovering from a great loss, and part of that recovery was finding my own strength and setting boundaries for relationships in my life. The boundaries and independence I have gained were valuable and necessary for my emotional health, but it has also been too easy to harden my heart against the offerings of others. This year, I resolve to be more generous in the way I receive what others give me, and to open my heart more to receive the blessings God has in store.