In the Tsinoy (Filipino-Chinese) culture in the Philippines, I’ve heard of the Fookien proverb: Han tsi, hey oh. (Literal meaning: Camote, return with gabi. Someone gives you sweet potato, you give them taro.) I’ve seen often how my mom or my mom-in-law would give something in return (almost immediately or soon after) to someone who’ve given them some gifts. My mom said she doesn’t like to be indebted to people. Personally, I often feel like doing the same. It seems that giving is easier to do than receiving. It’s as if we are uncomfortable with just receiving.. period.
Through the years, I observed how frustrating it is for children who wanted to show their love and care for their elderly parents and have their parents turn down their gifts or their offers. Imagine you buy food or things for them, deliver them personally to their place, and have them say “I don’t need them.” or “you keep them or give to your children instead.” or see them store in their cabinets unused for ‘nth’ years until these things get destroyed by floods or pests or expired with time.
So I learned the lesson of the gift of receiving: to accept graciously and gratefully whatever my children or my friends offered me. This requires that I do not have a sense of superiority – feeling that I am the elder or that I can afford to give more than the giver. It also means that I do not need to feel a sense of being indebted to the giver. I give the giver the pleasure to give me things, to serve me, to do things for me. I know my children are happy when I let them serve me or buy me gifts. I accept gifts of my helpers when they bring food after they return from their vacation. I use the gifts that missionary pastors give me with gladness.
More than that, I am not shy to ask for help from my friends when I need it. It brings to mind what Paul taught the Galatians: Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (6:2)
In Joni Eareckson’s words, it is ‘interdependent.’ She said: “As a quadriplegic of 47 years, I have been on the receiving end of other people’s help for many years. My caregivers and my husband are experts in giving, even when it hurts, and they are bone-tired. Part of me feels guilty about that. But God designed my disability not to make me “independent,” but “interdependent.” And as the recipient of my husband’s love, I do all I can to support him and my caregivers with gratitude, as well as pray for them in their weariness. It’s the least I can do. It’s the family thing to do.”
Gilbert Meilaender wrote in an article for First Things, “Families would not have the significance they do for us if they did not, in fact, give us claim upon each other. We do not come together as autonomous individuals freely contracting with each other. We simply find ourselves thrown together and asked to share the burdens of life while learning to care for each other.”
Yes, it is more blessed to give than to receive… but it is also possible to give in receiving – to give others the pleasure of giving is a gift much appreciated as well.
This is the human perspective – giving and receiving between men. How about between man and God?
Today, how am I receiving the gifts of God? Am I even aware of them? Are they just taken for granted? With a sense of entitlement? Or with a heart of gratitude? We can never out-give God. But we are good at asking to receive from God. Perhaps we should do better how we receive from God… even and especially the things we did not ask for.