In a world where we are conditioned to focus on ‘Self’, Heather Packett reminds us that life is really all about ‘Us’.
I remember as a child hearing the words ‘It’s better to give than to receive’ and thinking it was a load of hogwash.
As a child, there was no better time than Christmas, when those presents would be loaded up under the tree over a few weeks – all different shapes, sizes and weights, each one bearing a surprise for the receiver. Even better than Christmas, when everyone got to receive gifts, was a birthday – when every present I could imagine was purchased, wrapped and presented especially for me. Oh the joy and anticipation of those significant days! I liked to draw them out and revel in the suspense, making the gift unwrapping last as long as I could.
I was never a good gift giver. In fact I was terrible at it. When I got to the age when I could choose things myself for other people I was always profoundly bad at imagining what they’d like. Etched in my brain to this day is the year I budgeted my own pocket money and chose gifts for my family for the first time by myself. I must’ve been about eight I think. I saw a beautiful Christmas tree trinket in a shop window and thought it’d be a great present for my dad. What I didn’t realise was that it was actually a cake-decorating shop and I’d bought him an intricate icing sculpture. What on earth was he supposed to do with that? On opening it he asked what it was, and someone informed him (and inadvertently me) of my error. I was embarrassed. But apparently, as I was told, it was okay, because ‘it’s the thought that counts’ (another sentiment I seriously questioned the validity of as a child).
In some ways I think that experience has scarred my gift-giving potential for all time. Even now as a parent I find myself always buying copious amounts of ‘back-up gifts’ just in case the one I’d originally picked is met with unfavoured politeness. I can stand for hours in a shop second-guessing myself, or even worse, on an overseas trip I’ll try to get the gift buying out of the way during the first couple of days, only to find something better at every subsequent stop, meaning that I end up with what can only be described as a suitcase full of junk as I head home.
Why is it that by-and-large, we think of gifts when we think of the sentence ‘it is better to give than to receive’? The phrase is actually found in the Bible, in Acts 20:35, spoken by the Apostle Paul (quoting the words of Jesus) explaining how he has worked hard to give his life, time, talents, emotional energy, and self to the people living in Ephesus at the time.
Paul’s point was not that we should shower each other with gifts, and somehow we’d gain some greater blessing in life, but rather that giving is about sacrifice and placing others needs ahead of our own.
As an adult the idea makes a heap of sense. In fact I would go so far as to say that the fabric of our humanity craves this sentiment to be true.
I heard an interview on the radio recently where the discussion revolved around the good things a man was doing for those around them just prior to passing away. Many people started calling in and talking about how they like the concept of ‘paying it forward’. One gentleman said he always buys a coffee anonymously for the person behind him in the coffee queue. Another spoke of always stepping in if a stranger needed help, regardless of the lack of convenience. People were applauding each other for acts of selflessness and encouraging more of the same.
As humans, we innately want those in trouble to be rescued by those who have the means to do it.
I saw a woman stop her car in the middle of a thoroughfare the other day, to carry an elderly lady’s groceries to her car for her. She copped some abuse from other drivers to do it, but I couldn’t help but think – isn’t this what we need as a community? People who will do the hard thing, the thing that may cost them popularity, or time, or money, or resources?
In Luke 14 Jesus tells his followers that when they have room at their table, instead of inviting people like them, they should invite the poor and broken – people who can’t pay them back – to share the meal. Then he adds this amazing comment “though they cannot repay you, you will gain reward from heaven.”
The fact is that we know this reality to be true: when we give of ourselves to those who are in need, our self-worth, purpose and passion arises to the surface. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, or challenging, or that we will always feel a sense of euphoria about it – sacrifice by nature carries pain with it – but there is something immensely fulfilling about recognising what we have and using it to ease the difficulties others face.
On a regular basis I get to see this sacrifice – this giving – being outworked by people who are inviting vulnerable kids into their families. They love and accept these children as one of their own, and they face the inevitable challenges of raising them head-on, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, because they understand that every child needs a family, and it is far better to give than to receive.
Responding is not easy. It requires great sacrifice. It requires considering the need of others above our own desires. It requires understanding that we may be someone’s only hope of succeeding in life. It requires compassion for those who have found themselves in circumstances they didn’t choose, and being prepared to do something practical about that. It requires love. It requires grace. It requires pain, but it brings the great reward of seeing hope in a person who may have had none.
And this is the true blessing of giving. We get the joy of seeing that life is not entirely about me. Life is about us. We get to experience the joy of seeing someone else being blessed through us.
And that, in itself, is a priceless gift.
Heather Packett serves on the Pastoral team at Crossway Church in Melbourne’s East. She and her husband Lucas have set up and oversee ‘ARK’, a network of missional communities aimed at calling followers of Jesus in Australia to rise up and respond to the plight of vulnerable kids who need love, compassion and a future filled with hope.
Hear more from Heather at LifeWell Conference: lifewellconference.com.au
Read about the work that Heather is involved in at: arkaustralia.org