It might not have been easy, but most of us have (earned to be unselfish and giving. How about taking? Especially something you can't use, wouldn't have chosen for yourself, or have several of already? The Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive, but ministers' wives need to learn how to accept gracefully, as well. Gifts are attached to the heartstrings of the giver, and demonstrate either love or some need in one's life.
Have you had a surprise gift lately ? How did you react? Insensitivity on our part in receiving what parishioners give us can cause harmful relationships. Betty Holland, who authored this Thanksgiving feature, is a graduate assistant at Northeast Louisiana University at Monroe where she is working on a Master's degree in English. As you read these delightful suggestions, may you learn to be a good taker as well as a good giver! —Marie Spangler
I take it as one of those smaller manifestations of predestination that I, for thirty years a Presbyterian minister's wife, should have been born and reared next door to a Presbyterian manse.
During my first twelve years, the manse was occupied by the same family. As a late-in-life baby in a neighborhood of adults, I was adopted by all, including the lovely white-haired lady of the manse, who called herself (to me) "Granny." Then when a larger manifestation of predestination led me forth to be a minister's wife myself, Granny had the charity of heart not to be astounded at this turn of events. From her nursing home room she sent, along with her love and best wishes, a piece of silver and some words of gold: "Take everything they try to give you," she wrote. "It is a part of themselves that your church folk offer you, and you must never reject their gifts. If you can't use what they give, pray and look around you. The Lord will show you someone who needs that very thing."
She was really saying, "Don't reject people." As a newlywed in my husband's parish, I immediately began having opportunities to learn to accept gifts gracefully. But slowly, so slowly, came the realization that most gifts are attached to the heartstrings of the giver. Granny's counsel, like most advice received in one's youth and accepted as wisdom of the head, required a number of years before it could become wisdom of the heart, as well. I I have come at last to accept everything I am 'offered—most of the time with a thankful heart! The Lord has a use for every gift, even if I don't.
Not that sincere appreciation and gratitude has always been easy. Take for example, The Year of the Turkey. In our particular parish it was the custom at the Christmas season to drop by the minister's home with a festive dish or staple as a token of love and good wishes. We knew turkeys were cheap that year in the grocery stores, but by Christmas Eve we had amassed eight of them, and it became increasingly difficult to smile with genuine delight at the sight of another parishioner bearing a frozen bird wrapped in red and green paper! But it wasn't difficult to think of places where there might be no turkey at all for Christinas dinner, and we were thrilled to be able to say, "This is for you; we're sharing our blessings!"
The Year of the Turkey was followed by The Year of the Grapefruit, The Year of the Duck, and The Year of the Pecan. But always the humor of having more of something than we could possibly use gave way to the wonderful thrill of being able to share the abundance. Someone always needed what we couldn't use, and though there was often work involved in finding that person, it was well worth the effort for all concerned.
Sometimes when the overabundance of the gift was obvious even to the giver, it was easy to say, "May I share this with Mrs. P ? You know she has been sick recently." Then we identified the true giver to the recipient, and a bridge was built. All we had to do was the legwork!
Some gifts, it is true, seemed totally unusable, either by ourselves or anyone we were remotely acquainted with. But we always found some use for each gift. In one parish, we had an elderly member estranged from his family through some obscure feud forgotten by everyone except himself. He just "happened" to drop by at mealtime so frequently that we wondered where he managed to find food when he didn't. One Thanksgiving he joined us, by invitation, arriving camouflaged as a bush, so laden were he and his bicycle with a bale of dirty, bug-ridden, yellowing turnip greens! Rosy with pride, he was sharing his bounty with us. Whatever would we do with them! It was a true challenge, but we received the turnip greens with sincere appreciation for what they represented—his love. The humbler the gift, the greater its importance to the giver, we found.
The Lord Jesus, our example in this matter of accepting gifts as He is in all things, sanctified a woman's extravagance as she poured her very best perfume over His dirty, and no doubt aching, feet. How her heart must have burst with joy when He understood and approved that questionable gesture! "Give me a drink," He said to another woman who perhaps needed to learn the art of selfless giving. As a result she received the very Water of Life, and in her turn, proceeded to share it with everyone she knew. Sometimes He borrowed things—a colt, an apartment—and in sharing these material things with Him, unknown persons became part of the world's salvation.
There is a wrong kind of gift too, which is meant to bribe or curry favor, to control the behavior of others. But however distorted may be the giver's motives, such a gift is also attached to his heartstrings. Even gifts of this nature can be redeemed by recognizing the need that lies behind them and addressing that need in a direct way without rejecting the giver. The woman who poured perfume on the Master's feet did so only once. He dignified her impulsive gesture and elevated it to a spiritual level. In so doing, He enabled her to focus on the greater gift, that of service to His kingdom.
Receiving gifts with gracious appreciation when they come is one thing; anticipating and expecting them is another. Our youngest daughter, reveling in the excesses of her fifth birthday party, sat amid the cake crumbs, party hats, toys and other debris and asked with an insatiable gleam of pure greed in her big brown eyes, "How long is it till I'm 6?" The adult members of the minister's family retain as much of the child in their personalities as anyone else. Often living on a financial scale below that of many of their parishioners, they may find them selves dreaming of a surprise trip to the Holy Land, or even a new television set! The temptation is real. Only in learning to appreciate the pure beauty of a spontaneous sharing of the stuff of life can we mature in the art of taking without greed or avarice.
Paul Tournier's lovely little book The Meaning of Gifts speaks of the deeper meaning implied in giving and taking: "If each gift is a symbol of love, no matter how small the gift, then surely there must be a love, total and supreme, one that doesn't fail. This is what men intuitively await, and what they are seeking in the smallest gifts received each day. It is as if successive little payments assure us of the final payment-in-full." —Page 58. Those in the service of ministering to others would do well to add this small, yet profound, volume to their reading lists.
If each gift bears in it a bit of the giver's heart, insensitivity in receiving what people offer can do unwitting harm to relationships between clergy families and parishioners. This was vividly brought to my attention recently by one of my neighbors, an elderly widow whose chief delight is working in her tiny patch of vegetables and flowers. Proudly she harvested her first crop of radishes. One by one she washed them and carefully arranged them in a basket. "These are for my new minister," she announced importantly. But later she told me that when she called to ask when she might bring them, he replied, "Oh, we don't eat radishes, but thank you anyway." The young pastor didn't intend to hurt her feelings. He simply didn't understand what the radishes represented. She was hoping for a little visit to ease her loneliness and a little admiration for her gardening skill. She wanted to feel that she had demonstrated her pleasure in having him in the community.
Some people on the other hand, seem to have an intuitive knack for accepting gifts from others in such a gracious way that the smallest offering becomes a treasure. One minister friend says that he is often offered items from a late husband's wardrobe by the widow whom he has counseled through her grief. "I always try to use at least one of the things, a tie or a favorite sport shirt, even if it doesn't fit very well," he recounted, "because it brings her such an amazing amount of comfort. It seems to make her feel that a part of the person she loved so much is still near." Then, with a flash of infectious humor, he added, "But my friends have begun asking me not to look through their closets when they're sick!" Deeply loved and respected by his church folk, this man has the gift of knowing how to edify the giver by receiving in humility.
In giving, we receive; in receiving, we give. It is truly a paradox. Christians by tradition are generous and openhanded, after the example of their Lord. But also by His example, we need to learn more of the art of taking graciously what is offered, realizing that the giver is incarnate in his gift. "Then, just as little children, we can enjoy all the little gifts of"the earthly life, seeing in them so many signs of that great and final gift which awaits us."—Ibid., p. 63.
What did we do with those inedible yellow turnip greens? Why, we mulched the rose bushes, of course!