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The Gift of Receiving

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Christmas is about Receiving

We are thick in the season of giving. Retail merriment may jing-jing-jangle our nerves, but many of us bask in thinking about our giftees and what might bring them joy. This is progress from our less-enlightened “gimme” days. Wonderful! We are learning to be good gift givers.

The flip side of this is that this is also the season of receiving. Just how enlightened are our receiving skills this Christmas time?

I used to think gift cards were bland and impersonal. It was hard for me to give them and somewhat disappointing to receive. Not so these days. Now I find a well-suited gift card (given or received) to be very satisfying. Maybe not gift cards to grocery stores, but I could be wrong.

Getting gifts from very young children is good exercise in receiving. In nursery or pre-school, kids may not even know how to hold a crayon yet. The tots likely aren’t thinking of Mommy when they make a “present” for her with a jot with the red crayon. However, their scribbled bits can be interpreted by an aware adult as evidence of the child’s growing social and motor skills. They stayed in nursery long enough to participate in the activity, after all. That affirmation is a joy to receive! It’s not the “masterpiece” itself we’re receiving and grateful for. Sometimes the meta-message takes some digging.

Speaking of meta-messages, “receiving” is a rich word in our Mormon lexicon. When we are confirmed we are told to “receive the Holy Ghost.” As a convert with a well-developed spiritual life before joining the Church, I can’t say I noticed a particular shift or infusion of new “oomph” with this charge. Sometimes I think of it like a tuner on a radio. The Holy Ghost will always broadcast; how good am I at receiving It? When I “receive” that Gift, I vow to put myself in a frequency to hear It, feel Its humming presence and proceed with the impulses and messages I sense.

In sealing eternal marriages the man and woman promise to “receive” one another. (If something is received, it must have been given in the first place. That’s my take on wording that isn’t exactly identical.) Is there anything more humbling, open and trusting than that kind of exchange? Marriage is a setting requiring equal (and extraordinary) measures of responsibility and vulnerability.

Receiving in most profound ways, I think, is best accomplished without a lot of (jingle) bells and whistles (although expressed heartfelt “thank you”s and/or notes should be somewhere in the mix.) Isn’t the meta-message of the gift of this season found in reflection, awareness, gratitude, and a blessed balance of humility and majesty? Phillips Brooks, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” said it well:

How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.

How do you prepare to receive? Any memorable occasions of receiving gone grossly wrong or movingly right? What layers of meaning does “receiving” have for you?

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

8 thoughts on “The Gift of Receiving”

  1. I love these thoughts, but I do have one correction/question: I've noticed that in the temple, only the woman is actually asked to give herself to her husband, the husband is only asked to receive his wife. I've always wondered about that. Does anyone have any thoughts on it? I apologize if it's too specific a question to ask about the temple- I never quite know what's okay to talk about and what's not, but this is something I've always been curious about and I couldn't pass up the chance to get some thoughtful responses….

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  2. Hi Katie –
    Thanks for your comments. You're correct in so many ways! Yes, the language isn't exactly identical. To me it makes sense that something can't be received if it isn't given. I have listened to it often and wrestled with the "why"s and "what"s of that detail (and the many others I encounter.) I'm comfortable with my current take on it, but I am certainly not speaking for God or the Church in my spin.

    And yes, a public forum like this isn't the place to suss out temple questions and answers. I'm persuaded that I don't have the brain or the context to resolve a number of the serious questions I have. Not that this stops me from pondering and sometimes gnashing my teeth. (I think God expects me to both.)

    Thanks again for your careful ears, eyes and comment!

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  3. Linda, thanks for getting me thinking about this powerful idea of receiving. That verse of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is my very favorite of all the Christmas carols. I don't know if I've ever pulled together all the different contexts where we use "receiving." Thanks for drawing them together the way you did. It's giving me some new ways of thinking about receiving, whether receiving a spouse or the Holy Ghost or the Savior. It has something to do with embracing fully, not holding anything back. That is the way I would want to be received as a spouse. Think how my life could be blessed with power if I received the Savior in the same way, holding nothing back.

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  4. I'm trying to be more graceful in receiving – I think it gives something back to be able to show your appreciation for being thought of (regardless of the gift). I really dislike people saying "Oh, you didn't need to do that!" when I give them something – I know I didn't have to do it, but I chose to and that means something, which is why (particularly for those unexpected gifts that pop up this time of year) "Oh, thank you for thinking of me! That means a lot" says what I mean and not the PC acceptance speech.

    I've been thinking about the Holy Ghost and sealing wording in your post, thank you for that insight.

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  5. It is very hard for me to receive gifts. Same goes for service. I love giving gifts, and I love doing things for other people, but I often feel like I am undeserving of the gifts people give me. I feel guilty that people think to spend time or money on me.

    I was talking to my bishop about this once, and he immediately asked me questions about how I view the Atonement. Initially, I thought it was odd, but he made similar connections that you did here, Linda. I'm trying to be better about receiving gifts–I'm always very grateful to those who give me gifts, but the internal guilt is rough sometimes.

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  6. I have a mother who acts almost angry when I give her gifts – its a miserable experience to give to her. But being in her 80's, alone and with limited resources, I could not live with myself if I didn't try to meet some of her needs and wants as well. I don't remember when I last heard the phrase "Thankyou" from her. That has been my motivation to receive gifts with joy – no matter what the gift. I FINALLY matured to the point where my focus isn't on what the gift is or even if its something I would want, but rather on the fact someone cared enough about me to think about, look for, sacrifice either time or money for the gift – and all for me. I used to be childish when I received a gift from my husband that from a selfish point of view, didn't meet my expectations. Since I put my focus on the giver and what they have done for me, the gift, no matter what it is, has become secondary to the fact that someone cared enough about me to do that. And I want to make their giving a source of joy to them. What a huge turnaround in my level of joy when my priority became how the giver feels instead of the gift they're giving me.

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  7. Linda,
    Beautiful connections! Thank you.

    Yesterday I showed a friend a painting I am working on for her and her family to commemorate their family's sealing. Her response of gratitude was a lesson in receiving. I hope I can always receive with grace.

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