You might think that is a funny question. But, in truth, some of us are really not good at it.
Ever wonder why some people get the help they need when they need it, without having to twist anyone’s arm off to get it?
Ever wonder why some people just receive gifts, constantly?
Receiving is an art. And it’s worth learning it.
I used to sit around and wonder why when we go on a family trip, say a picnic, it was me lugging the drinks and snacks, making sure that the food was ordered and picked up, and every detail taken care of. It was always my job.
This was just one small example. But, really, it was many small things.
My children weren’t helping enough. My husband wasn’t buying me gifts. My friends were taking advantage of my helping hand. It seemed like I was always doing everything myself. Even buying myself the gifts.
I realized, at the age of 45, that because of my need to be in control and have everything “just so” I had “ruined” the people around me.
Let me explain.
My children weren’t helping, because I didn’t give them a chance. I knew that I needed to sweep because the 10-year-old wasn’t gonna do a perfect job. I didn’t let the 12-year-old bathe the baby because they would surely leave some shampoo in her hair. I didn’t trust the 15-year-old to throw in a load of laundry, because she will probably not separate the colors from the whites. And I said “No thank you dear” when that same teen offered to help bake for Shabbos.
My husband used to buy me gifts, but he stopped, when he realized they weren’t exactly to my liking. My friends stopped offering their help, they knew I’d anyway be doing everything myself because I preferred to be the one dictating how things should be.
This feels so sad, even to write. But here, the good news: it wasn’t too late. Yes, it took me 40 years to realize that I had created a very lonely and hard reality for myself. But, not too late. This topic came up one day, when I was speaking to a very smart Rebbetzin. I was trying to explain to her that I couldn’t get anyone to do anything and I was perpetually exhausted and more often resentful than not.
She had a simple solution. She looked at me, and gently said, “You need to start receiving.”
“Receiving what?” I replied, bewildered. “NOBODY IS GIVING ME ANYTHING!” Wasn’t she listening?
“Just start by opening yourself up to receiving. Commit to receive anything that comes your way,” she replied softly. “When someone holds the door open for you, receive. Say ‘thank you’ and receive that act of kindness with the whole of you. The rest will follow.”
“I will try,” I said. I was skeptical. I didn’t believe I was the problem.
But, I was willing to try, even if I was really unclear on the details. Wasn’t I accepting that open door anyway? I always enjoyed seeing people with manners and chivalry. What did “the rest will follow” mean anyway? It felt very heebie jeebie but, my attitude was, what do I lose? I was desperate for someone to help me shoulder the daily responsibilities of a large family with many conflicting schedules and commutes.
And so, the experiment began. When someone held a door for me, I received that act of kindness, accepted it with every fiber of my body. I spent two weeks looking for more such acts coming my way.
None from my family, that’s for sure. None from strangers either.
I kept looking.
I called my Rebbetzin and despaired, “I’m looking to receive but nothing is coming my way!!!”
“Look some more,” she sympathized. “Don’t give up. When your baby touches you, accept that touch. Sink into it. When your toddler rests his head on your shoulder, accept that. Embrace it. Practice your receiving with the little ones because they do give more than the older children or adults.”
This was getting even weirder, but I was willing to go along with it.
That week, I did some research. I read about receiving. I learned that, and I quote “Allowing yourself to be a gracious receiver is a humbling experience and is truly an act of love because it offers a chance for others to give. Receiving is not about expecting others to give to you because you are more important or deserving.” I had to be open to receive, but not because I felt I deserved anything.
That was hard. Because, in truth, I firmly believed that I deserved help cleaning up the toys. I deserved to go to sleep early. I deserved to go out with a friend.
I had lists and lists of things I deserved and needed, in my head. I had to undo all that. I needed to receive, but not because I deserved to receive. And, I did some more reading on the topic.
“When people try to give you things (acts of service, kindness, gifts, emotional support) and you push them away, they notice and give less. Start paying attention to the way that life is always trying to give to you. Remember that you have to have your receptors open.”
Have your receptors open. That is exactly what my Rebbetzin had told me.
But, were they, open? Did I even know how to do that?
The very next day, the opportunity presented itself. My husband was standing in the kitchen, pouring himself a drink (a cup of soda, and I don’t like soda, in case you were wondering) and he sweetly asked “Would you like a drink too?”
“You’d think he knows by now that I don’t eat that kind of stuff?” would be the thought going through my head and my reply, out loud, inevitably would be, “No, thanks!”
How’s that for a hostile vibe? I knew my receptors were not only closed, they were clogged shut.
I was gonna change that. Here was my chance.
“Oh yes, thank you! I am so thirsty!” I heard myself reply.
I watched, amazed, how happy my husband was to pour and bring me a drink. He even put a napkin under the glass.
I drank that cup of soda and it tasted so bad but so, so good at the same time.
That night, I called the Rebbetzin. “I think I’m starting to understand what you mean,” I told her. But I had a long way to go.
Slowly, I started getting better and better at it. I spent the day looking for small gestures to receive.
I realized that receiving is so very feminine. And we all want to be soft and feminine. It just feels right.
My big test came a few weeks later. I was going out for lunch with a friend and she spent most of the hour crying about how her financial situation was so terrible and she didn’t know if she should pay the gas bill or the phone bill. Never mind tuition. It was terribly sad to watch.
Then the waiter showed up with the check. My friend literally pushed a $100 bill into his hand (she had it ready) and insisted on paying. The old me would have refused, fought her. The old me would pull out the Amex from my wallet and return the cash to her instantly.
But I knew better. This wasn’t that “old me” anymore.
I accepted. I thanked her, and accepted.
It was one of the hardest things for me to do. And I wasn’t sure if what I did was right. It felt wrong.
Yes, I was confused.
I called my savvy Rebetzin and told her what happened. “You did the right thing!” She reassured me (she was so proud!). “What you did is truly an act of love because it offers a chance for your friend to give to you. You sat and you listened to her hardship. This is her way of feeling worthy.”
Till today, I still wonder if that is true. It felt wrong. But, as life has a way with these things, there were many more opportunities for me to give to that friend…
But back to me, and my quest of receiving.
I quickly realized that the more I accepted, the more people were open to give. It took much work, on my part. I had to learn to be vulnerable (which is a whole other topic, how much time do you have?!?!) and not only accept the help, but also vocally acknowledge it and say thank you for it.
Sentences like, “Thank you for taking the kids to school today, I really couldn’t have managed without your help today,” were hard to say at first. I couldn’t even believe how hard. Completely foreign. Why was it so hard? Why was I so proud of doing everything myself? Did I really think I was getting a medal one day? I learned that it was nothing to be proud of, running yourself haggard and resenting everyone.
The first time I told my daughter, “Thank you so much for bathing the baby, I noticed you even gave her a massage with the baby oil, and I’m sure she loved it,” she looked at me in such a funny way I had to restrain myself from laughing. She never heard her mom talk that way. Her mom was being vulnerable. That was new.
Never mind the mess she had left in the bathroom, the 2 inches of water on the floor. It was worth it. (And gradually, she learnt to do a neater job, without me pointing it out.)
I am not here to tell you that everything magically changed and all I do these days is sit on the couch and eat grapes. But, a lot has changed.
My children help more, and they even like doing it. They love my compliments. I got very good at complimenting.
When someone offers to help “Hey, should I bake cookies for the picnic?” I accept. I don’t think twice. Even if I know my cookies would taste better.
My husband started buying me things again. Small, silly things. But I am excited with each gift. Be it a Ami Magazine, a box of chocolate mints, or a donut. The more I accept, the more he gifts. And, it really is the thought that counts.
Because believe me, this is better than no gifts. I was there, not long ago.
And the bigger things will come. They already are. Last week was my birthday, and I received a gorgeous flower arrangement. I received it with every fiber in my body.
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