Receiving: It’s Complicated

You would think that receiving a compliment would be a simple thing – a natural thing even. But for me, receiving a compliment is complicated. In fact, receiving anything is complicated.

“You’re a good man”, my wife says this to me the other day. No warning, she just says it – offhand, like it just came to her. Authentic and clean.

Hmmm. Now if she had tacked on a request I could have handled it better. “You’re a good man…so wouldn’t mind cleaning out the garage…would you?” Or, if she’d been trying to make up for an offense, “You’re a good man – so forgive me for what I said”. Yeah, I could account for these.

I understand transactional relationship. They are buy/sell. I’ll give you a compliment and you give me something in return. In these, you don’t really just ‘receive’ anything, you more or less trade favors. Transactional relationship may bother me, but it doesn’t conflict me so.

In the case of the aforementioned compliment, Jean’s designs were diabolically kind. She wanted to bless me with something she believed. She just want to give it to me – free. Now what am I supposed to do with that? I stammered, stuttered, made a joke and otherwise dodged the gift.

It’s all very confusing. Why isn’t receiving easy? Something good is offered – why not be grateful and enjoy it? But it doesn’t work that way in practice. I’m perfectly comfortable trading pseudo-blessing, yet completely thrown by the real thing. If you give me the real thing – a gift-blessing and I squirm, minimize the gift and look for ways to pay you back. Receiving is complicated.

But it gets worse. Compliments are gifts. But all meaningful things in life are gifts. So my happiness is dependent on having the humility to receive. Wait! Do you hear that? Basic human happiness depends on receiving. If I can’t (or won’t) receive, then I will be relationally/spiritually lost.

Everything depends on receiving. But I balk at a simple compliment. I experience a strange vertigo. I want the gift-compliment, I like it, but somehow I just can’t let it penetrate. Gift-blessing throws me off-balance and all my attempts to regain control forfeit joy.

I might try to regain control by paying my wife back, “Hey, you’re a good woman too.” There, back at you, now we’re even. Yes, I lose the impact of her gift and yes, I rob some of her joy in giving, but I feel better, less… beholden and more… independent.

Or I might attempt equilibrium by internally discounting the compliment. I think, ‘she doesn’t really mean that…’ or, ‘if she only knew…’ Discounting the gift temporarily makes me feel more in control. I don’t feel so needy, so ‘given-to’.

That’s it! I don’t want that ‘given-to’ feeling. I want the gift, but not the sense that I need it from others and God. I want to believe that I can control the flow of gift-blessings. I want to believe that I can earn, buy or deserve gifts of love. I even want them so much that I might stoop to ‘stealing love’ by guilting someone or manipulating them. Of course, they are authentic gifts anymore – when I buy or steal them – but that’s the point, I got them ‘on my own’ and this mollifies my urge to independence. Yes, I’ll do almost anything to avoid being ‘given-to.’

Yikes. I’ve got a problem. I want everything; I need everything; acceptance, approval, eternity, forgiveness and meaning. I want great mountains of them. But all those things, all of them, are gifts. I can’t have gift-blessing without learning to receive.

Receiving is complicated. And the way back to humility is long. Maybe I could start by looking at Jean (in the eye) and saying, “Thank you, honey, that means a lot to me.” Then maybe I could let her look me in the eye.

After that, no telling what might open up in me.




Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.

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