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Toward Wholeness Blog

The Art of Receiving: A Habit Foundational to Wholeness

Continuing a series that refers to the Forest Faith meditation and saturation prayer, this offering considers the foundational priority of learning to live as a child. My response to people who want to argue about Christianity from a philosophical or apologetic standpoint is always the same: "If want to talk about epistemology, post-modernity, logical positivism, the inevitability of nihilism, or discuss archeological proofs for the Bible, I'm game - but none of those are why I believe. For me it's this simple: Every day is Christmas and I'm opening gifts showered down on me from a loving Creator. THAT'S why I believe" Learning to see the gifts we're continually receiving and respond with gratitude is foundational to shaping a robust and sustainable faith, and is a key ingredient on our journey to wholeness

An infant, only minutes old, knows from its first breath that receiving is central to life itself. She inhales, her first act of reception. She instinctively suckles at her mothers breast; more receiving. She’ll be wrapped in a cloth and sleep, instinctively receiving the gift of rest. She’ll cry to make it known that she needs to receive more - she needs food, cleaning, sleep, warmer or cooler clothes. Receiving is almost entirely the way of it in those first days, weeks, months, years.

It will be quite some time before he begins to think about giving back, or reciprocity. At least a decade will pass, maybe two, before he considers buying his own food and clothing. Along the way he’ll pick up signs that life isn’t all about receiving. He’ll receive Valentines, perhaps, in his 3rd grade class from other students, but he’ll be expected to give some to them as well.

Once he gets a job, even the smallest one, he’ll be introduced to a different a conception utterly other than the simplicity of receiving, namely that of transaction. He’ll learn that the money he receives at the end of the week isn’t a gift, it’s “given” only in response to what he’s “given” to his employer, namely time and a certain set of skills. Employee gives. Employer receives. In response to what employer receives, she gives something to employee. If he’s satisfied, he gives again, and she receives and gives again as well. The company gets your time. You get some of the company’s money. Everyone’s “happy?"

There’s nothing inherently wrong with transactions and the reality that some relationships are transactional, but "transaction" is not everything, not even the main thing. The world is saturated with receiving gifts from the creator, and these gifts, while intended to lead to a life of wholeness, are given and received without a sense of transaction. They’re given freely, without precondition of gratitude, reciprocity, or obedience to the gift giver. If you doubt what I’m saying, consider that Putin, the guy who killed all the elementary students in Uvalde Texas, the Bible reading gay couple down the street, and the atheist heterosexual couple all breath the same gift of air, drink the same gift of water, eat the same gift of food, enjoy the same gifts of sunrise and sunset, and the laughter, and music, and beauty, and o so many more things. Everyone. Every - one... is receiving gifts all the time. Receiving though, isn’t the point - that happens without our even trying.

What’s needed, desperately, is a change in our mindset regarding receiving. Here are two thoughts to get you started

Acknowledge that much (most) of who you are comes from what you’ve received. This will keep you humble. I Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?….” Yes you’ve likely worked hard. Denied yourself. Exercised a fair bit of self discipline along your road of education, employment, and family life. Part of what Paul the Apostle is saying though, is that you’ve built your life on the foundation of gifts that you didn’t earn - gifts that were given to you. Without that foundation, you wouldn’t even be alive, so quit boasting. Without bread and water and literacy and a few nutrients embedded in food along the way, you wouldn’t even be here. A key takeaway here for me: I try to look for gifts everyday that I’ve received, and then explicitly express thanks for them. This includes food and its why we pray at mealtime. It also includes gifts of beauty, intimacy, relationships, health, steps towards justice that occur, healings, births, ocean waves, moonrises, the milky way, blueberries on the hiking trail, and a few hundred other things. I just write what comes to mind on the page of my forest faith diary and leave it at that. (“Forest Faith,” a book about developing habits of gratitude, strong identity, connection with others, and sense of calling, is available here.)

Practice actively receiving challenges and trials as well as gifts and blessings. Learning to receive all that comes our way will change you dramatically. The foundation for this challenge comes from Ecclesiastes 3, which teaches us that there’s an “appointed time for everything” which sets the table for a deeply realistic view of the world. It won’t be all sunshine. There’ll be storms, and setbacks, and losses. Like trees, we’ll be strengthened and nourished by placid days and storms alike. Both have value. The so called “good” gifts are cause for worship and give us foretastes of eternity. The more challenging gifts build endurance, strength, and faith. They create in us what Paul calls, “an eternal weight of glory.” Economic setbacks, loss of someone we love, health challenges, struggles at work, not to mention the petty annoyances of traffic, the news cycle, broken appliances, and so much more: These are where we learn to live in the present. These are where we overcome our inherent tendencies toward viewing the cup as half empty and complaining about it. Instead we inhale, receive the present as a gift in which God will teach us something valuable that will shape us positively, and then get on with it.

There’s a tree just beyond the deck of Hildegard, the tiny house/office we built a year ago, which has a few branches under the cover of the deck roof. By now those branches have the mark of death. Having turned brown, they’re dying and will soon need to be removed. The tree’s fine, but those branches under cover are dying. I’m not an arborist, but I’ll say this much: the branches exposed to 500 inches of snow a year are doing just fine because they get everything - the snow and the sun; the rain and the wind. The branches “seeking” safety from the storms, also fail to receive the life giving elements of the sun.

It's as if joy can’t be had without sorrow. Planting with harvest. Day without night. Sleep without wakefulness. Seasons of plenty without seasons of want. There’s a time, it turns out, for everything. Now’s the time to begin receiving each day, each gift, with gratitude, for such is the journey to wholeness.

O Thou God of all seasons;

Grant that I might Iive a daily life of humble gratitude. Open my eyes to see how much is gift, and open my heart to give thanks. And when storms, loss, and even the annoyance of losing the keys or forgetting the password comes my way, give me the grace to receive these too as gifts, places where you’ll teach, and deepen, and transform me. Thank you for living in a gift saturated world. We, all of us with the gift of breath, are fortunate indeed!

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Gifts and gratitude are a meaningful reminder, even for the most faithful of believers. It's too easy to fall into glass half empty. It's as if we're otherwise trained to adopt a posture of focusing on how empty things feel everyday and stating the obvious. Our gas gauge goes from a satisfied variation of measurement in being full - "it's 3/4 full" to shifting toward empty "we've only got 1/4 of a tank". Or our bellies going from satisfied - "I'm full", to then "I'm hungry", with all the concerns and short-tempers to go with it. It goes on and on.

Looking daily for gifts and expressing thanks to our Creator shifts context and our circumstances back toward what He's…

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