Giving is one thing. Receiving is another.
Would it surprise you to learn that the best gift you can give this Thanksgiving is being a gracious receiver? Opening your heart to the full measure of someone’s love, affection, appreciation, and gratitude seems like a simple thing. Someone says, “I love you,” “Thank you,” and/or “I’ll be forever grateful to you for . . . ,” and you take it in with a nod and a smile. But this isn’t always the case.
Some of us have broken receivers. That is, we’re unable and/or unwilling to take in the love, affection, and appreciation that’s being given to us. Perhaps we don’t feel we’ve done enough to deserve it. Or, we don’t trust other people’s motives and fear there will be too high a price to pay. Some of us are convinced it’s our job to be givers. Or we’ve allowed ourselves to become self-sacrificing martyrs. Whatever the case, we deny ourselves these priceless gifts. And, in so doing, we deny others the pleasure of seeing us accept their love and gratitude.
It took an unforgettably rare and precious moment with my 92-year-old mother for me to realize that my receiver was broken. Leaning in, drawing me close at the end of our weekly lunch, my mother tearfully whispered, “Zeese, do you know what it’s meant to me to have you at my side all these years, and how much I love you?” By expressing the full measure of her love, my mother wanted to see me wearing it proudly, the way an Olympic athlete bows to receive a gold medal, a beloved wife dons a beautiful new diamond necklace on her anniversary, or an actor walks to the stage to receive a lifetime achievement award.
Well, I did take it in . . . briefly, shyly, because I’m used to being the giver; and tearfully, because it had truly melted my heart. Minutes later, I hugged and kissed my mother goodbye and walked to my car. Without being conscious of what I was doing, I turned on the car radio. After listening to meaningless sports talk for a few seconds, it hit me. “What the hell am I doing listening to the radio? Can’t I handle or accept what just happened?” Overwhelmed by the intensity of what I was feeling, and having trouble taking in my mother’s gratitude, I had turned on the radio to avoid dealing with the emotions that were welling up inside of me.
So I pulled over to the side of the road, turned off the radio, took a few deep breaths, and surrendered a few soft tears. My heart had been cracked wide open by my mother’s declaration of love and gratitude. I’d been given the gift of a lifetime but didn’t know what to do with it. Sitting there, I wondered, Is there room in my heart for this much love? Do I have the ability to receive this much appreciation? and How many other times in my life have I tuned out, deflected, and/or missed out on the love that people were trying to show me? The inescapable truth, which was that my receiver was broken, inspired me to get it fixed.
My mother passed away two months later, but I’ll always remember the words and the expression on her face that day. I honor her by learning how to receive love and gratitude. With loved ones, I do my best to sit still, rather than squirm; and allow the kindness, affection, and appreciation to go in. When I’m alone, I make an effort to truly acknowledge all that I’ve done, rather than dwell on all there is yet to do. And in front of audiences, I practice bowing, placing my hand on my heart, saying “Thank you” and breathing in applause after a speech, rather than running off the stage, the way I used to.
Fixing my receiver, lowering my defenses, taking a deep breath, and opening my mind and heart to give and take—a process of reciprocity and balance—has taken time and practice. And it still doesn’t come naturally. But I’m learning. Telling my heart and brain that it’s okay to relax and trust others, being vulnerable, and making room for their love and appreciation, is as much a gift to those who are expressing their love and appreciation for me, as it is to me. Just ask my daughter, fiancé and close friends.
If your receiver is in need of a tune-up, or broken altogether, consider upgrading to 3.0 this Thanksgiving. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving gathering this year and are used to doing a disproportionate amount of the work (you’re a pleaser, caregiver and or control freak), humble yourself and ask for help.
- Take a few moments to stop and appreciate yourself for all your efforts.
- Smile and take compliments in, rather than deflecting or minimizing them.
- Allow yourself to be loved, honored and appreciated. Let it in—breathe!—and wear what has been given to you proudly.
- Be patient with yourself as you learn to receive graciously. This is something that takes time, practice and humility.
- Rest assure, becoming a gracious receiver is also going to make you a better giver.
- Have faith in yourself. Let somebody show you how much they care, how grateful they are and how much of a difference you’ve made in their life. You earned it!
Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving and holiday season!