May 2013

On learning to give and receive

The experience of being taken out of our comfort zones enables us to know what it is like to be in the shoes of another, writes Edwina Butler.

BY Edwina Butler

The first thing I learned the first time I visited Mount St Benedict Centre in Pennant Hills was the importance of learning to receive. Once the door was opened and a solid, warm welcome given, there was no opportunity to back out, as my natural tendency would have led me to do.

The sister who greeted me, not even knowing who I was or why I was there (a question that was not even fully answered in my own mind at the time!), sought in haste to serve me. Without hesitation she led me to a place to sit, offered me a warm drink and even a choice of biscuits or cake. My inner voice said “No thank you, I don’t want to put you to any trouble. Sorry I have arrived unannounced!”

Yet there was another inner prompting within me that seemed to be saying, “Receive; you must learn to receive”. I was so out of my comfort zone when I obeyed this inner prompting, and said, “Yes please” when offered a drink, and then again “Yes please”, when offered something to eat. I had never in my life been so mindful of every sip, swallow and mouthful, as I sat self-consciously under the gentle, attentive gaze of the first Good Samaritan Sister I had ever met. This was an experience I would never forget.

More puzzling to me now as I reflect on this, is the fact that I did not arrive at the door looking forlorn or desperate, or with a suitcase (as I remember they did in the movies when they knocked on the big door of a monastery), or to beg, or with nowhere to go. I would not have appeared hungry, thirsty or in need of special care. Yet, this was a welcome fit for the most in need or the least in need. In fact, it was a welcome fit for Christ himself.

Some say it is easier to give than to receive. I am the type of person who can easily agree with that; for to give means we have something to offer. It means coming from a place of having or being something. It is an opportunity to demonstrate big-heartedness, good fortune or capabilities. What is offered may come from personal traits one has been blessed with, such as generosity, compassion, sensitivity, courage or strength. Or it could be the result of the abilities a person has been enabled to develop, such as time management, creativity, social skills, diplomacy, academic capability, intuition or wisdom.

Alternatively, what a person can give may be the result of the material possessions they have been blessed with, such as a car they can share with others, excess food, money or a myriad of other resources at easy reach of their fingertips. Having gainful employment or having had good fortune financially also has a lot to do with this.

However, to receive from another, even just some simple help, seems to require that we present ourselves in terms of what or who we are not, what we can’t do or do very well, or what we don’t have. For many, this may not be difficult. For many it is easier than giving. For others it is not. It requires us to be willing to be vulnerable.

Acknowledging that you are in need gives another person permission to draw closer and help. Whether the required help is hands-on or sought-after feedback, or just a listening ear, it creates a space that brings people together to share in a meaningful way. It is part of the process of building relationships and community.

The experience of being taken out of our comfort zones enables us to know what it is like to be in the shoes of another. If we find giving easier, we can learn to understand better how it feels to be on the receiving end and become more sensitive to the needs of those who receive from us.

If we find receiving easier, we can learn about what it is really like to be a giver and better understand what is really being asked when we give of ourselves or possessions. We can become more compassionate towards those who can give more and be a more gracious receiver. Of course, all of this learning is an ongoing, lifelong process.

One movie I have returned to several times speaks about the things I have mentioned here. It is a funny, sensitive, touching movie that is also quite raw in places. It is based on a myth, the central theme of which is aligned with Christian values, St Benedict’s Rule and the mission of the Good Samaritan Sisters. The movie’s name is the same as the myth’s name: The Fisher King. It is very much about how we can serve, who we serve and why. After watching it closely, you may also agree with me, that it is largely also about learning to give and receive.

Edwina Butler

Edwina Butler is a wife, mother and science teacher with many interests. Recently she graduated with a Master of Educational Leadership. Together with Thomas Sobb, she runs the Newcastle Benedictine Book Group. Over the last six years, Edwina has continued to join with the Good Samaritan Sisters as often as time allows. She believes that what she learns through her association with the order is essential wisdom for Christian living today.

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