The gift of receiving

Giving has been made into a virtue but what about receiving?

It was the 24th of December and I found myself battling hordes of other shoppers in a quest to buy Christmas presents. I woke up on the morning of Christmas Eve to the realisation that I didn’t have any gifts for my family and friends. 12-hour workdays, choir practices and performing at concert after concert had ensured my current predicament.

My hunt for the ‘perfect’ gift

So after a quick dash around the mall I managed to get perfect presents for everyone, except for my cousin Ian. Confused about what to get him, I wandered about till I found myself outside a toy store. Though I doubted I would find anything appropriate for a 35-year-old, I went in. Walking past the pink aisles laden with dolls and around the racetrack, hidden in the corner I found something I knew he’d love—a 13000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Present bought, my five-foot-something frame was soon struggling with a massive four-foot gift in a crowded Mumbai train. But the gift endured its arduous journey and was shortly under my Christmas tree.

As per tradition, after midnight mass my immediate family exchanged presents. My brother gave me a bracelet. “Thanks, but why did you get me that?” “It’s not what I wanted, I asked for perfume,” I rambled on, ignoring his downcast look.

It’s finally Christmas

The next day, the family came over for Christmas lunch. My aunts, uncles and cousins stared at the present, speculating who it was for. Soon, the gifts were opened one by one, till the biggest one—my present to Ian was left. He loved puzzles and I was sure he was going to be excited by my gift. I watched in anticipation as he unwrapped his gift, but his reaction was not what I had expected. “Why did you buy this?” “Do you know how big this is?” “Where am I going to keep this?” “What am I going to do with this?” A barrage of questions came. A lump formed in my throat and I struggled to rein in the tears. His mom seeing my crestfallen expression said, “Maybe we can keep it in our holiday home.” But he was upset and asked me to return the gift.

His mom told me later that there was no problem with the gift per se, but Ian was not used to getting anything nice, so receiving something so extravagant stirred an unconscious reaction.

Receiving ungraciously

But I can’t really point fingers at Ian because I’m guilty of this behaviour too. I realised that I had the same attitude when my brother had handed me my gift. I only saw the entity and not the affection. I’ve often caught myself saying, “Thanks, but I didn’t want it” or “I’d like it better if it had this feature... or that feature...” or even “Why did you buy this, I told you I wanted ____!”

How often have we found ourselves receiving ungraciously and in the bargain hurting those who put so much thought and care?

But receiving is not just relegated to material things; it could be compliments, help or even love.

What messages are feeding you?

Do you remember the time when you complimented someone on their attire, only for them to respond, “Oh, this is such a rag...” or “It makes me look fat”? Or if you’ve offered to help someone, only to have them curtly brush you off with, “I can manage.” Leaving you to question what it is you did to offend them.

I remember an incident where Nisha, a friend of mine, told me that I looked pretty; to which I responded “Don’t lie to me and please don’t insult my intelligence.” She was aghast at my brusque reply but said, “No, you really do look pretty.” I then retorted, “Ok, what do you really want?” Noticing her shocked expression, I took a moment to understand why my answers to Nisha’s genuine statements were as rude as they were.

And then I realised—it was because I had been told that I would only be pretty if I was thinner, taller, had longer hair, wore contact lenses, had my teeth fixed and a host of other things, and that’s why I felt that Nisha was lying to me. For so long had I been fed these messages of unworthiness that I began to believe them and felt unable to accept her sincere praise.

Building walls

However, it is in our closest relationships that I find we don’t know how to receive. We deem ourselves undeserving of the gift of someone’s love and affection and we push them away without realising what we’ve done, till we lose them. We want to love someone, but often our unworthiness surfaces and we end up self-sabotaging our relationships. We build walls [sometimes even higher than those of Jericho] when we do not receive well. We are taught that it is better to give than to receive, but how can you give what you don’t have?

Receiving well doesn’t mean we indulge in an exaggerated outpouring of gratitude; more often than not, a simple “thank you” accompanied by a heartfelt smile does the job. So this new year, I have decided to receive all the gifts that come my way graciously—whether they be material objects or someone’s affections. Because, I have realised that the gift is not in the wrapper—it’s in how I receive.

P.S. If you’re wondering what happened to the gift, I exchanged it for two smaller jigsaw puzzles that he liked better.

 This was first published in the January 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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