When you know a little something about giving and receiving love
I keep thinking about this bit of wisdom from Fred “Mr.” Rogers, via this New York Times Magazine piece about him:
“It’s so very hard, receiving,” he said. “When you give something, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something, you’re so vulnerable.
“I think the greatest gift you can ever give is an honest receiving of what a person has to offer.”
I know when I feel strained in a relationship — romantic, platonic, familial, professional — I often focus on what the person isn’t giving. They aren’t devoting enough time to the relationship. They aren’t putting in as much effort as me. They’re different from me in some fundamental way, focused on things that seem unimportant or uninteresting. They don’t see things my way. They don’t get me.
Sometimes, if those relationships are damaging or blood-sucking, it’s worth letting them go. But when they’re just off or imbalanced, I’ve found it really helpful to adjust my view. Instead of scarcity — what’s missing — can I find something about what the person offers that feels rich? Instead of honing in on my unmet expectations, can I focus on receiving what they are giving me, and letting that be enough?
On the flip side of that, when someone gives what feels like more than enough, I question whether I’m worthy of it. Who am I to be loved this well and this deeply? What is wrong with this person, that they hold me — bad, imperfect me — in such warm light? Can I be good enough in return?
Mr. Rogers is right that there is something deeply vulnerable about receiving whatever someone is offering, no matter how small or how big. In many ways, it’s easier to give love, affection, wisdom, and thought than it is to receive it. It’s easier to identify the holes and what someone isn’t giving and what you don’t have than to see all of the ways in which someone else helps to fill you up. Even without conflict or strain, it is so exceptionally difficult to receive without judgment: To accept what someone gives as enough. For the many of us who move to the constant tune of you are not good enough, it is so exceptionally difficult to receive without suspicion: To welcome plentitude without expectation.
As you think about what trifles and tokens to give this month (and, if you can, what donations and gifts of support), might you also think about where you could open yourself up to receiving from those around you? Can you let yourself be porous, soaking in what others offer? Can you let a simple receiving of that offering be enough?