She reached into her purse, dug deep and found what she was looking for. “You’ve been especially nice,” she said, “I want you to have these.”
I looked around, made sure nobody was watching and conspiratorially took her offering.
“You deserve it,” she replied, then sat next to her 93-year-old sister whom we had just transferred from our stretcher to the hospital bed. Another sister stood nearby, watching closely. Fifteen minutes ago we were in their home, where the eldest of the three had fallen.
Their father built the place, in the North End, back when the family garden took up two lots. Now, those fertile fields are filled with more houses, and more people, most of whom don’t give “the old ladies” the time of day. We did. For my partner and me, it was fairly routine; for the sisters, a trip to the hospital in an ambulance was a very big deal. Fortunately, the injuries were minor.
“Make sure you give some to the other man,” she said. “He was nice too.”
Back in the truck we split up the bounty. There were five altogether, I took three and gave John two. I was the captain, after all, and rank has its privileges.
The Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Giving may be more blessed, but receiving is pretty good, too. By graciously accepting the gifts that the little old lady offered I acknowledged her kindness. Had I refused to accept the candies she handed me, I would have deprived her of the satisfaction she felt for rewarding us for being, in her words, especially nice. Not everybody gets the gifts, you see, only those who have earned them. Giving for the sake of giving is noble, but not nearly as rewarding.
Somewhere along the way we have forgotten how to receive. Many in our society feel uncomfortable when presented with sincere thanks, or gifts. We would rather be the giver than the receiver. It is considered selfish to be delighted by the offering of thanks for something we did, or for simply being born or for sharing a holiday.
Therein lies the problem; selfishness has been demonized. There is nothing wrong with being selfish. A person without a bit of selfishness likely does not value himself or herself enough. If we do not value ourselves, how can we value others?
When I do give gifts, I do so fully expecting the recipient of that gift to be delighted. If that is selfish, so be it. I put a lot of thought and effort into the gifts I give. There is little worse than laboring over what to buy or make somebody, searching for it, forking over the dough, wrapping it and handing it over to a person who is more interested in giving than receiving.
Yes, I am selfish. I want the person getting what I am giving to give me their full attention. I want them to appreciate the thought and expense that went into my doing my best to make them happy. In return, I do the same for anybody who gives a gift to me.
Jesus understood what it means to give. Giving and receiving are exactly the same.