A story of a man who refused to receive…
Once upon a day, there was a hungry, homeless man who thought to himself, “I wish I had a delicious feast, but that’s not going to happen without any food or money!” So he opened his dirty cotton sack and pulled from it his wooden bowl and spoon. He walked to and fro over the roadside, filling his bowl half-full with this and that, stirred it, and sat down to sup. Just as he put the spoon to his mouth, a woman came round the bend and offered him an enormous tray of delicacies. “This feast is for you,” she said. The hungry man bristled. “No, I’m fine,” he said. “I’ll eat this mud and gravel.”
Are we turning away life’s gifts, even when we are in need?
Just like the hungry man, each of us has probably refused the very gifts that life has offered us—at one time or another. We may even have refused the very things for which we once wished and hoped. We’ve refused kindness, encouragement, support, nourishment, and love of all forms. We can all relate. Maybe we chose to eat mud and gravel in our job, family, health, or relationships. We allowed ourselves to receive the pain and suffering of digesting those “gifts” while denying ourselves the feast of goodness, bounty, and love.
Why is receiving so difficult?
To receive openly, graciously, joyously, and genuinely, requires inner strength. It requires us to know that we are worthy. If we don’t know we are worthy, we will find a way to deny, disrespect, or discard the good gifts that life intends for us—even when we are starving for them.
Do we believe we’re worthy to receive? Take the worthiness quiz!
Answer the four questions below, rating how you would feel if you received the gifts on a scale from 1-5. Give your answer a 1–if you feel angry or like running away, 2–if you feel irritated or awkward, 3–if you feel uncomfortable, 4–if you feel grateful but not deserving, or 5–if you feel deeply honored, worthy, and graciously accept.
- How do you feel when someone gives you a heartfelt (true) compliment?
- How do you feel when your friends give you birthday gifts?
- How do you feel when you are given a very expensive gift?
- How do you feel when someone does a favor for you, without being asked?
If you scored 15 to 20 points, you either know you’re worthy, or you lie like a dog and you’re probably laughing right now. If you scored 10 to 14 points, you often feel confident but still don’t know your incredible value (worth). If you scored 0 to 9 points, you probably wonder why people do nice things for you and often feel not good enough (unworthy)—this is common, and most people feel this way!
How did this happen? Why do we feel unworthy?
There are many layers to why we may feel that we are not worthy to receive.
We may associate suffering, sacrifice and pain with love. Examples of this include:
- We may have watched people we love (e.g. parents) sacrifice or block their ability to receive joy so that they could put “food on the table” for us.
- We may have judged that it is wrong, boisterous, ostentatious, arrogant, or “showy” to experience goodness and joy out loud, in public.
- We may have had a jealous parent or spouse, who punished us with critical words or actions when we were happy or “did well.” We may have learned to bury our joy, accomplishments, and gifts, for fear that we would be squelched by others. So we may stuff or hide goodness before it can be taken from us.
- We may have loved a depressed person or family member, and felt guilty for experiencing or receiving compliments, love, joy, or care for ourself, since the depressed person was in such pain and suffering. So we shut those gifts out.
- We may believe in a religion that deifies sacrifice and suffering as a way to heaven.
- We may have taken the Bodhisattva vow in this or previous lifetimes, vowing to suffer and give without end, until all of humanity is saved from suffering. Note: we can’t suffer enough to lessen someone else’s suffering. Their suffering is theirs. If we choose to suffer, we may “fit in” with those who suffer, but overall, it just adds more suffering to what’s already there.
For many years, I struggled with receiving, and in some ways, I still do. In the past, I struggled to receive the gift of someone holding the door for me as I walked into a room, now I relish that opportunity! In the past, I railed against receiving the gift of a real compliment from someone who meant what they said, yet, now I feel honored by true compliments. And at one time, when I was given a beautifully-wrapped present with a crisp-and-shiny bow, I felt deeply uncomfortable. When I did accept gifts, I felt like I would need to somehow “repay” the person’s kindness. I also felt guilty. Already having so much (at least in my perspective), and deeply loving people who were depressed and without joy, I judged that I did not deserve more. I thought, “I’m doing fine, I’m not starving, and I have a home and a vehicle and a job and my wits about me. I judged and limited my value, saying, “Why should I receive such goodness when so many people suffer?”
I felt unworthy.
I could not receive more love, gifts, time, life, support, encouragement, money or whatever else—than I believed that I deserved. Having judged myself as not worthy of receiving all the gifts that life offered me, I “unconsciously” found ways to refuse, deny, or dismiss gifts. At times I said, “No I simply couldn’t accept this,” and refused to take the gift, even when it was the gift of someone who offered to carry my heavy luggage. Other times, I felt so anxious and then explained why I didn’t deserve the gift. And in some circumstances, I simply stewed in my discomfort, as I “sucked it up,” took the gift, then quickly exited and plotted ways to give back to the world in repayment for having received a gift for which I was not worthy. Regardless the size or cost of the gift, I rebelled, since I did not believe that I was worthy to receive it.
Compliments count as gifts.
True compliments are gifts of gratitude from one heart to another. Gifts of words from the heart can be as difficult to accept as a physical gift. Think of that someone you know who is gorgeous (or smart, or talented, etc.) but he or she doesn’t believe in their mind that this is true. No matter how many times and in how many ways we may tell this person that they are gorgeous, they will not be able to receive, or sometimes even hear, our compliment. Sometimes, they may even “parrot off” a list of reasons why they believe that they are not attractive, not smart, and don’t deserve the compliment. If we judge ourself as being unworthy of receiving a compliment, it blocks us from receiving that gift.
Care and caregiving count as gifts.
If we’ve ever been so ill, that we were not able to physically care for ourself, we know how vital the care of others can be to our physical life. Receiving this gift of care can be an enormous blessing. The question is, how able were we to receive that care? Did we rebuke that person and what they offered? Did we get angry about our pain and inability to care for ourself? Did that person’s care ignite our own feelings of inadequacy, or seem to threaten our very independence? Did we realize that we had defined ourself as the “giver” in the relationship, so when the roles were reversed we felt like we might not be needed or loved anymore? Lots of personal issues can arise when we are faced with allowing ourself to receive care. I’d like to share an example.
A mother who needed care, resisted care, and how it affected her family.
Here’s a little story that I hope you find meaningful and helpful for your life. As some of you know, I was married for many years. During that time, I grew to love my husband and his family deeply, and I experienced a strong and special bond with my mother-in-law. We loved and respected each other, and that deepened our experience. Near the end of her physical life, she experienced hardships that required her to receive physical care. She could not care for her basic physical necessities. She had 16 children, two of which passed very early, and the oldest children were in their sixties. Fourteen children remained her pride and joy, and they were happy to care for her in her time of need. However, since she identified herself with the role of giver and caretaker for everyone else during her life, she resisted receiving care. She felt frustrated and deeply saddened by being bedridden. She knew how to give. And she knew the value of giving. But, she did not know how to openly, gratefully and graciously receive. Because of this, her relationship with her children-caretakers was strained, and everyone was on edge.
My mother-in-law, mother Theresa as we often called her, was a Christian, and sought answers to her discomfort through her religion. During our last phone conversation, we discussed the Bible passages that she was thinking about, and I read from Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling. Regardless of whether or not we are religious, the lessons shared here are eternal, and may be applicable for each of us. The following message from Sarah’s book is a compilation of Psalm 23:5, John 3:16, Luke 11:9, and Romans 8:32 and goes like this:
“Sometimes, my children hesitate to receive my good gifts with open hands. Feelings of false guilt creep in, telling them they don’t deserve anything from me. My kingdom is not about earning and deserving; it’s about believing and receiving. When a child of mine balks at accepting my gifts, I am deeply grieved. When you receive my abundant blessings with a grateful heart, I rejoice. My pleasure in giving and your pleasure in receiving flow together in joyous harmony.”
After hearing this passage, my mother-in-law said that her children were “a gift from God, her greatest gift.” And now, those children wanted to bear gifts of care and kindness onto her. She saw that although she could no longer give her children the gift of a home-cooked meal or a poppy seed cake for their birthday, she could give them other gifts, gifts of gratefully and gracefully receiving their care and giving back to them in compassion and loving kindness. She could also give them the gift of being able to give to her. And anyone who has ever tried to give someone a gift that has been denied, knows how painful this can feel if taken personally.
That day, mother Theresa chose to shift her perspective. She decided to allow herself to gratefully and gracefully receive her family’s care and love. Her shift improved the atmosphere in the hearts of everyone involved, and in the home where she lived. Her shift in perspective was also an enormous gift to her own peace of mind, which was a relief to everyone in her family. Days later, she left her body. As time passed, some of her children told me that the memories of those last days with their mom, those memories they will hold close forever, are memories of love indeed.
Can we stop resisting Life’s gifts and start receiving?
Yes! Let’s learn to receive more by taking these four steps:
Step One: Become wholeheartedly willing.
The wholehearted part is key—meaning that every part of us is willing and open to the idea of receiving. To discover whether we’re wholeheartedly willing and open to receive, we can ask ourself this question. “Is any part of me not willing to be open to the idea of receiving?” Next, “listen” for our truth. Don’t search for the answer—that’s thinking. Just allow space without thinking, to listen. We can “listen” through our senses. We may hear the word “Yes,” also called clairaudience. We may feel tightness or physical resistance, also called clairsentience. Or we may “just know” that we aren’t open, also called claircognizance. We can also know by how we behave … do we have a strong desire to be distracted and to turn away from this topic, or to our phone? If we experience any of these examples, our answer is yes, part of us is not willing to receive life’s gifts.
If we’d like to become more open, willing and wholehearted about receiving life’s gifts, we may ask, “What would it take for me to become willing?” Next, we can listen and receive our answer. Then, we can follow through, and give ourself the security of whatever we need (that’s in our best, healthy interest). The sooner we give ourself that security of what we need, the sooner we build trust with ourself to take good care of us, and we’ll experience more peace, and, become open to more of life’s gifts!
Step Two: Upgrade our personal definition of receiving.
Receiving does not mean that we are weak or needy. Receiving is simply living; it is part of the life experience. Just like receiving a breath, and then giving it back. By receiving, we honor life, what it is, and what we are—a gift. If Life wants to give us a feast, why not invite a crowd and enjoy it together? If Life wants to give us roses, why not stop to smell them? If Life wants to give us a beautiful day, why not allow ourself to really soak in the goodness? I’m not saying we should overindulge in pleasure-seeking and greed, but there is something to be said for allowing and choosing to receive Life’s good gifts of beauty, love and joy.
Step Three, unblock the universe.
Life/God sends each of us a constantly flowing stream of opportunities and gifts. However, like the busy beavers we may be, we may have blocked our very own stream (we’ll, I’ll be dammed!).
If we hold any stress, shame, or judgment around not feeling worthy to receive Life’s gifts, the gifts are blocked. The antidote to this painful blockage is forgiving ourself. This allows us to change the way we see ourself from bad, wrong and not-good-enough—into a humble, patient, and loving person who accepts that we are a worthy to receive gifts, simply because we are alive and being our best now. And if we’re not being our best, then we can begin to be. And when we give our best to life, we live without shame. And without shame, we’ll feel worthy to receive gifts and goodness. When we give our best to Life, it’s easier to receive the best from Life!
If we feel resistance or “dead weight” around the idea of forgiveness, we can read our previous articles about forgiving ourself, forgiving others, and forgiving Life, or check out the videos (ourself, others, and Life) on YouTube. Even though we know all of our own “secrets,” “mistakes,” “habits” and reasons why we’ve judged that we don’t deserve goodness, who are we to judge anyone anyway… including ourself?
Step Four, we can give ourself permission to receive.
Yes, you got it, you are your own authority and have the privilege of granting yourself full access to allow Life’s stream of gifts and goodness to flow! The question is, Will You?