A Cautionary Tale
First, a little holiday story:
You’d have to be blind not to notice it was the largest present under the tree. He had wrapped it as best he could, but still the bright paper and gaudy bow made it stand out like a flashy hotel on the Vegas Strip compared to the other gifts.
She couldn’t help but wonder what it could be; wonder or dread, she wasn’t sure which was the more accurate feeling. He hadn’t been much of a gift giver in the past, at least not the recent past.
For a second, she fondly remembered the precious gifts of jewelry he’d given her in the early years of their marriage. Nothing extravagant (they couldn’t afford it), yet the sapphire earrings and matching bracelet had been thoughtfully selected, delicate and tasteful, wrapped in small pretty packages. She also recalled the silver and gold bracelet (a custom creation by one of her favorite artists that she wore almost daily) he’d surprised her with one Valentine’s Day after seeing her covet it in the shop window at Christmas.
It had been years since he’d given her anything like that.
This was clearly not jewelry, judging by the size of the box. She pictured small kitchen appliances that might fit the bill. Maybe it was a toaster oven, a slow-cooker, or an ice cream maker. In any case, ick, ick and ick.
She worried he spent too much money. Maybe after so much time away from gift shopping and giving he was now trying to redeem himself by over-compensating. Hmmm . . . if it was a big-ticket item, she wondered what kind of dent this might put in their vacation budget for the year . . .
Worse yet, it was probably something he thought she’d love but didn’t have the slightest need or desire for. Proof of how little he knew her now, or cared to.
She sighed, thinking this was the year their marriage might finally reach the last straw. Maybe she should just go ahead and file for divorce – get t over with and get on with her life before she was stuck for good in what (judging by the mounting evidence) seemed a passionless, lifeless relationship.
He watched her, eying his gift, with childlike anticipation. He couldn’t wait for her to open it, to see he was finally giving her what he’d so often held back but knew she always wanted.
A few months ago, after yet another long-haul business trip to Asia, he realized how withdrawn they’d both become from each other. His frequent travel was usually manageable, but the cumulative effect of so many years of it was now unmistakably taking its toll on not only her, but him.
He was tired of feeling disconnected from – well, practically everything except his job – coming and going and popping in and out of what was supposed to be his life so often that there was now almost zero continuity to his relationships with family and friends. He could see that every time he left, his wife and two boys seemed to get by better and better without him. The boys were big enough to really help around the house now, even mowing the lawn and washing the cars once a week.
So right after Thanksgiving, rather than scouring the Black Friday sales for some luxury handbag she might like or getting her the usual spa gift card he robotically produced every year, he began preparing his new Christmas gift for his wife. He’d made his decision. This year, he would give her his whole heart, all his love, without holding back.
He gathered his love into a bright, shiny nebula of brilliance. He added a significant and steady amount of companionship in the form of long walks on the beach, a vacation without the kids, and weekly dinner dates alone. He blended a healthy dose of passion, sex and romance into the mix, and finally completed his creation with gratitude, appreciation, and respect – all the long-held feelings of his now open heart that he’d been meaning to share but found it so difficult to express. When he was done, his creation was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen – so beautiful he almost hated to have to box and wrap it.
Just thinking about it again brought tears to his eyes now as he caught her inquisitive gaze, clearly trying to figure out what was in the box.
* * *
To Give is Divine, but It’s Not the Whole Story
What little we know of life’s gifts. How limited we are to receive them. Yet, how much we need them and can flourish from them if only we could be truly open to receiving.
In this holiday season, so focused on giving and gifting, I say it’s high time we learn to receive.
Does that strike you as funny? That we have to learn to receive? Yet the reality is most of us have mastered defensive, self-protective behaviors so well that (consciously or unconsciously) we block our own ability to receive. Both individual and cultural conditioning bear their share of blame.
Women especially struggle with this. We sacrifice endlessly (and often unwillingly, complaining all the way) for our families, jobs, clients and community. Doing, giving, and contributing. Yet when help comes calling, our traditional first world pioneering self-reliant boot-strap conditioning takes over and as much as we desire to receive, we can’t. We’re so busy with outflow that nothing can flow in.
Are you open to receiving? Really open? We all say we want to win the lottery or a free car or find our dream man but if a gift that amazing actually showed up on your doorstep, would you welcome it with open arms, or find reasons to keep it at arm’s length?
Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what any of us would do in a given circumstance until we encounter it for real, but there are clues that you might be more closed than open to receiving. Ask yourself if, when you’ve been given a gift, you’ve ever:
- Criticized, analyzed or inspected it
- Found fault with it
- Made excuses for why you were not worthy to receive it
- Made excuses for why the giver was not worthy enough to give it
- Made excuses for why the giver “shouldn’t have”
- Felt indebted by it
- Needed to know how much it cost
- Felt the need to control when and how the gift was purchased, or know as much as possible about that process
All are signs of the usually unconscious (if not subconscious) barriers we each have toward receiving.
The truth is, when you put energy out, it flows back to you. And it feels absolutely, positively marvelous to let it.
How I Learned to Receive
Teaching physical fitness classes this year taught me how to be open to receiving.
There were those summer Saturdays, those 90-degree-plus days, where I would have much rather stayed in bed than teach my noon Zumba class. There are the Fridays when I’d definitely rather sleep late than teach my 7:00 a.m. yoga class. I get tired. My muscles get sore. I get bored by the routine, or the music. We all do.
Inevitably, I’ll arrive at a class and see the hungry enthusiasm on the faces of the ladies there (average age about 50, seriously) and it elevates me, carries me, lifts me every time. And I let it.
After a while of this I learned I don’t always have to bring the energy to the class. More often than not, the class brings the energy to me, and I’m grateful each and every time it does, because then I not only benefit from it, but can channel it back.
In that way, by receiving we can truly give.
How often in life are we so preoccupied with controlling, directing, managing and supervising – with energy outflow – that the gift of inflow is completely blocked?
A Solstice Wish: Let the Light In
The day I write this marks the December solstice. It is the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the longest lightest day in the southern.
Wherever you live, it is the perfect opportunity to begin learning to receive. To allow the light already flowing to you to enter you.
Stop. Breathe. Listen. Be Still. And in that space, receive and experience the gifts that are meant for you. The gifts that are there for the receiving.
They are divine, they are magnificent, and they will buoy you to a point where you no longer need the energy to direct, control and manage everything around you. By receiving you will be able to effortlessly give.
My fondest holiday wish for you is that you become open to receiving this season, and stay open to receiving all year long. Happy Holidays.