My wife, Danelle, and I have always tried to live our lives with open hearts, open hands, and an open home. We have fed hundreds of people gathered around our dinner table. We have invited struggling college students and families with children to live with us until they could get back on their feet. We sponsor Compassion International children, give gifts to orphans in Africa rather than exchange Christmas gifts, and try to model a life of faithful stewardship for our children. We are people who love to give. There is something I’ve noticed about people who like to give; we are not very good at receiving.
Rather than going to God with a list, go to God and ask what is it you have that you need to let go of, and what is it that God has that you need to receive.
Last year, while on summer vacation, I received a gut-wrenching, life-altering diagnosis of cancer, a rare but terminal form. The trip had not been a vacation, but emergency medical leave with a side order of trauma. I returned spiritually, emotionally, and physically exhausted and tried to return to productivity. It was not working. Danelle jokingly said I should use my many networks and social media contacts and see if anyone would let me use a place at the beach for a week to recover from the hospitalization, tests, and shock before everyone had to return to school. So I did, hoping for a couple of days at somebody’s timeshare. What I got was a blessing well beyond my expectation.
That very afternoon, I received a message from an acquaintance, literally a friend of a friend, who had a friend at a real estate company on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This was not somebody who knew my family or me. This was a friend two or three times removed. This amazing woman had taken it upon herself to contact homeowners who had vacant homes. And one gave permission for us to use a three-bedroom home just seventy yards from the ocean that normally rents for more than $2,500 per week. There was no way we could afford such a place.
Why would anybody do this for us? I was blown away. I had not been to the beach for a full week since I was seventeen. Now I was going to be able to spend time on the edge of the land looking out the front door into the rolling waves and early morning sunrises over the crystal coast of North Carolina.
Receiving is rather humbling, actually. This gift was so overwhelming it brought tears to our eyes. It was truly an act of grace, an act of undeserved, unmerited, and extravagant generosity. The amazing thing is, this was just the first of the gifts we have been offered. There are some days I can hardly believe the blessings people are heaping upon us.
I could not understand why people were being so generous. We had not done anything to deserve these gifts. Yet a friend explained, “What would you do if it was somebody you knew? You would do everything in your power to give them whatever you could. People see that in you and want to give back to you for all the things you have given to others throughout your ministry.” I just sat there, stunned, because I had never given a thought to what we have given away. We had always just tried to listen to God’s direction.
When I die, I will not be taking anything with me. Nothing I own is ever really mine forever; it is only mine for a short time. It is going to pass through my hands. Sometimes God gives me the chance to let it go now so I can bless others. That is awesome. I get to do, in some small way, what God did. I get to show love by being a giver and not a grasper. I know people who are graspers. They hold onto everything as tightly as they can, unwilling to let anything go. They do it with stuff. They do it with relationships. They do it with their time. The ironic thing is that they cannot receive the blessings God has for them with full hands.
One of the practices I teach congregations is a prayer position with both hands up, open, and empty. One hand reminds us that there is nothing we have that God did not give us. The other reminds us that we are ready to receive whatever God has for us. Together, they are open, to remind us to keep our hearts, hands, and homes open to do whatever God calls us to do. Pray that way some time. You will find your prayer takes on a whole new feeling. Rather than going to God with a list, go to God and ask what is it you have that you need to let go of, and what is it that God has that you need to receive.
I am learning to receive. The Scripture reminds us that God has given “far beyond all that we could ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20, CEB). What I am learning is that when you receive what somebody else wants to give, you allow God to bless them in a completely new way. I would never want to be the reason that somebody else was not blessed. So I am learning to receive. Plus, what is the use in asking for a miracle if you are not willing to accept it when it comes?
This article is adapted from Marty’s book Dying to Go on Vacation: A Journey of Discovering Life While Facing Death, available on Amazon and used by permission.