Monday, October 10, 2016

Give and take

A friend told me everyone must work out whether they're a giver or a taker, and confidently own that identity. Or something to that effect. (Spoiler: this is not a post about sex.)

In Acts, the apostle Paul (mis)quotes Jesus: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'.

Paul's words may be an oft-needed challenge to selfish living. But we have no record of Jesus saying them and they invite the misinterpretation that the person with something to give is superior.

My response to my friend might be: who do you think confidently owns the identity 'Taker'? Isn't the answer: "nobody"? In which case, who do we self-declared givers label as the unaware Needy among us?

We do tend to flatten other people by categorising them in this way. As either victim or potential hero / villain.

A single friend recounted how she was approached at a wedding, where she was having a good time but happened to be a bit older than the bride, and pityingly told: "This must be SO hard for you.". Bam. Victimised and disempowered by a statement.

In some marriages, there is a tendency for one spouse (more often, the man) to see themselves as the carrier of the relationship, the sponge, tasked with looking after the more vulnerable partner, absorbing their weaknesses, keeping the show on the road.

In choosing friends, some will shun those who present themselves as weak. Who choose to use statements like: "I find that too hard"; "My life isn't fair"; "I've had such a bad experience". Others actively seek this out, threatened by the 'boasting' of those who choose to present themselves as strong. (And isn't the difference is as much presentation as fact?)

On the one hand, I think we all need to be both giver and receiver. At different times and in different roles. We need to know our ability to determine the future and influence the world with our offerings. And we need to accept that others affect those things, too.

On the other, it's clear some people just do have more to contribute than others. Are 'favoured', perhaps, in biblical terms. This often breeds pride and resentment, which reveals how much we let ourselves believe that those who contribute more are worth more. Or, conversely, are less deserving of care.

Thus far, in my life, I've mainly been perceived as a Giver and I think I present that way. Which I know puts some people off and attracts others. In my marriage, I find it essential to be both.  And at certain times (eg, as a new mum in Canada) I have been able to offer very little, while taking much.

But isn't the whole thing a false dichotomy? A giver cannot exist without a receiver. So, the more I have to give, the more I need others to take it. It is no indication of my greater or lesser value. If someone decides to deny me the opportunity to be a friend, an influencer, a helper, I am stuck. Forced to bury my talents in the ground.

The giver needs the taker, arguably more than the other way around. And neither can exist without the other because it is in relationship that they come to be.

Not long before my conversation with my friend, I'd heard that the essence of church is the meeting of needs. Christ is not in the need itself, the needy person nor the giver. But he is incarnate in the moment they come together, in their acceptance of and gratitude for one another.

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