40. At the Receiving End
We all know very well that it is our bounden duty to love our neighbor as ourselves. This applies also in reverse; our fellow men, if they are Christians, must love us! Do you think they find this easy, or difficult? Don't you think that, in common charity, we should try to help them, to make it somewhat easier for them? Don't you think it is our Christian duty to make ourselves a little more lovable?
Christians in past centuries do not seem to have considered this necessary. There were periods when Christian saints thought it was a sign of holiness to shut themselves away from their fellow men. Hermits would live in solitary confinement in caves in the Egyptian desert. They would deliberately allow themselves to become dirty and unkempt, as a sign of self-denial. Neatness of dress and cleanliness of body were considered worldly and sinful, to be renounced by a holy man. If you told a hermit that he should smarten himself up so that people could love him more easily, he would be astonished beyond comprehension.
However, I am not thinking of clothes and personal hygiene, but of one's character as it shows itself in one's life. What do you look for in a friend, and what personality traits do you find attractive in other people? We should all try to cultivate some of these traits ourselves, so that other people will find us easier to get along with. The TV commercials and glossy magazines do not help at all. They equate beauty with face cream, or, if you are a male, with after-shave lotion. Vivacity, brightness, charm, these are attractive features and can be fun if you are having a good time, but they soon wear thin and are not the kind of qualities I have in mind.
I like a person to be sincere and honest, with a sense of humor, yes, but able to be serious when occasion warrants it. He should be fundamentally optimistic, liberal and broadminded, not easily hurt or resentful of slights. I want him to be easy to relate to, able to talk freely, but also willing to listen. Conversation with him should be like a game of tennis, the ball going back and forth over the net, not like baseball where the fellow with the bat swipes the ball as hard as he can and doesn't expect it to come back ever! Above all, I want my friend to be warm, tender, and readily accessible. Some of this may seem external and superficial, but, in fact, I believe these traits all go deep if you consider them carefully. Anyway, if such qualities as I have mentioned are desirable in a friend, should I not try to develop them in myself, so that other people may enjoy having me as a friend?
How does one set about it? Well, one of the first things we should do is to try to love ourselves - in the right way! The wrong kind of self-love is hell, and is condemned by every religion. When I meet an egoist, whose whole world revolves around himself, I think, "This man is so deeply in love with himself that he won't notice whether I love him or not - so why bother?" But there is a good kind of self-love, which we could refer to as self-respect. Jesus evidently had this kind in mind when He told us to love our neighbor as ourself. The two kinds could be illustrated with reference to patriotism. Patriotism of the jingo type is dreadful. "My country, right or wrong." "My country is the only place in the world where you can enjoy freedom of speech; it is the finest, best, greatest, most powerful, etc., etc." Well, this is ridiculous, of course, and our young people are right to turn against such egoistic nonsense. But it is even worse, perhaps, to go to the opposite extreme, as when young Americans declare, "Everything about
America is bad," and tear up the flag, and try to destroy all their country's time-honored institutions. If other nations are to love America, the Americans must love themselves, love her for the good that is in her, for the potentials of her particular kind of government and culture - potentials not yet fully realized, but one day to be realized. Our love for America should be so great and deep that we can see her realistically. We should be able to recognize her faults as well as her virtues, and still love her.
This is the kind of way we should love ourselves, not egoistically or on account of our achievements, but because of our potentials and the particular qualities the Lord has given to us. We are children of God, made in His image and likeness; that's something, isn't it? God loves us dearly, so should we not be able to love ourselves unselfishly? So many people today seem to be ashamed of themselves, for no particular reason; they think they are failures, they are bored with themselves, they don't even like themselves! They drive themselves to drink or sex, or to endless frivolity, simply because of loneliness and self-boredom. Learn to enjoy yourself more, and then other people will find it easier to enjoy you.
Next I would suggest that you take it as a natural thing that people should love you. Stop all this nonsense about, "Nobody is going to like me! I'm not important, or clever, or well educated, or witty; my face is homely." That kind of attitude will frighten anybody off. Remember you are a Human Being, heir to the Kingdom of Heaven! Human beings are marvelous creatures, God's finest handiwork. You may not be an outstanding specimen of the genus Homo Sapiens, but you have that rare gift of humanity which God implanted in you, and which can respond to humanity in other people. My wife came home the other day really happy, because in the street she had smiled at an old woman, who had smiled back and said a word of greeting. Human beings are made to respond to one another in love; it is natural. Just let people know you are aware of them and let your love flow to them, and they will naturally love you.
Next I would say, you must develop the faculty of receiving gracefully. Jesus is quoted in the Acts as having said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." But how can anyone perform the blessed act of giving, if there is nobody available who is willing to receive? In our culture, with its tradition of pride, "giving" has become much more popular than "receiving." If someone receives something as a gift, even from a friend, he immediately tries to work out how he can make a comparable return, to even things out. If it is a Christmas present, he thinks, "How much did it cost?" and then tries to buy something, at about the same price to give in return. The reason is, of course, that the person at the receiving end feels inferior to the person at the giving end, and must establish his sense of self-importance by neutralizing the gift. Pride, you see! Yet, why should "receiving" make one feel inferior? And anyway, what harm is there in being inferior? It is no disgrace! I think friends should be able to give and receive without embarrassment, just as members of a family do, and as the early Christians did, holding their goods in common.
What are we to say of the lady who has spent her life doing things for other people, giving herself out and running around helping those who are in need, but who won't allow anyone to move a finger to help her when she is in need? "Oh no," she says, "I couldn't dream of allowing people to trouble themselves on my account!" Pride again, and the implication that you cannot expect anyone else to be as generous and unselfish and helpful as she has always been. When I offer to help someone who is obviously in need of help, I would much rather they said, "Thank you! That is very sweet of you! I don't know how I could have managed without you!" and let me do it, instead of, "Oh no, I couldn't dream of troubling you!" thereby brushing me off.
It is not only senior citizens and sick people who must learn how to receive gracefully. We must all learn it. Do not be afraid to open yourself to love from other people! Do not be ashamed to admit you need it. We all need love, desperately; we should not be human if we didn't. Of course, defenses are sometimes necessary to protect us from those who would abuse our love, but do not put up defenses when there is obviously no danger of abuse. Take them down! Give yourself out to others, and let them give themselves out to you.
Those who find difficulty in accepting from other people, are likely to be unable to accept from God. God loves us all equally, because His love is infinite, and the infinite cannot be divided into parts great and small. He loves the lowest devil equally with the highest angel. The difference lies in their receptivity. The angel receives the Lord's love in full measure with humble joy; that is why he is in heaven. The devil turns his back and blocks the inflow with his own pride, and so is in hell. Here, then, is a tremendous fact: our future lot, whether in heaven or hell, is determined solely by our willingness or unwillingness to receive the Lord's love!
The suggestions I have been making to help you in your relations with other people, apply also on a deeper level to your relations with the Lord. You must make yourself lovable to Him! He loves you anyway, of course; but He cannot make any real contact with you unless you make yourself lovable to Him. To begin with, you must learn to love yourself in the right way, without the slightest taint of self-conceit. He does not want us to throw dust over our heads and grovel. What father wants his children to do that? He wants us to be truly happy, as we human parents want our children to be. Whatever we want for our children in a finite way, He wants for us infinitely. He is not particularly interested in how clever we are, nor how beautiful. He is not much concerned with the niceties of our doctrinal position, nor whether we perform certain rituals in our worship, though these may be of great help to us. What He wants is our human response. He wants us to be good Receivers, fully appreciative of His bountiful gifts. "Thank you, dear Lord! Thank you, Father!" - such expressions of sincere gratitude should be continually on our lips; because, if we are truly grateful, we are happy. which is what He wants for us beyond all else. We have nothing to give Him but our love and gratitude, and even these must come from Him in the first place. We are basically mere vessels made to contain His life. If we empty ourselves out of self, it is only so that we can receive more fully from Him, just as we breathe out foul air from our lungs so that we can draw in fresh air from His infinite supply.
"Behold," says Jesus, "I stand at the door and knock." He is outside, knocking at our door. To let Him in we must remove all the obstructions and defenses we normally put up to prevent the invasion of our ego. To have Him dwelling within us, we shall obviously have to abandon many of our former pleasures; we shall have to devote more time to Him and the things of His Kingdom. We may have to change the whole pattern of our thinking and living, which would be tough. But who cares, when the Lord's love is offered to us? It will suffuse us, and heal us, and bring us heavenly joy and peace.
Did Jesus really say, as reported, "It is more blessed to give than to receive?" The greater blessing is surely to Receive - from Him. In fact, to receive Him.