Wednesday, February 8, 2012

To Give and To Receive

I was sitting in church several years ago when a line from the sermon jumped out a me with such intensity I kept hearing it echo in my head throughout the day and week that followed.

It's not serving if it's convenient.

I'd been doing a lot of soul-searching. I'd been trying to figure out why I seemed to be an especially selfish person, who, to be honest, wasn't big on reaching beyond myself and thinking of others' needs all that often.

When I'd heard that line spoken, I had to admit that so many times, when I did offer people my little crumb of help or support, it was on my terms, when I could fit it into my schedule.

I didn't feel condemned, but rather as if my eyes had been opened just a little wider. Over the coming weeks and months as I thought more about what it really means to serve people, I realized that another big reason I had trouble serving people is that I didn't grow up seeing my parents serve people.

There was a reason for this. They were often busy serving the needs of my brother.

There are things that happen, growing up in a small town or with a group of friends or in a tight-knit church. Or, things that usually happen. Maybe you watch your friend's kids one morning and another day your mom-friend watches yours. You offer someone a ride when they need it. Extend or accept an impromptu dinner invitation after church. There's this give and take, and this is one way you help people and get to know people.

Except that if you have a child with severe special needs, serving others may be more than inconvenient -- more like next to impossible.

How could my mom watch someone else's kids when she had to use most of her energy to make sure my brother wasn't, say, drinking Drano or raiding our refrigerator?

How could we have had people over for dinner and conversation when one of my parents would have to be focused like a hawk on keeping Andy out of the food or from melting down or making unintelligible noise throughout the meal and day?

How could we do much at all that required a change in routine or schedule, extra effort, anything besides the norm we'd all adapted to? Add that to a different, less-educated-about-autism era, where many people just didn't get the real challenges our family faced, and it's easy to see why we kept to ourselves.

The problem is, I began to adapt those same habits as I grew and ventured out on my own. Over time, the ways of self-preservation had worked themselves in me like well-worn paths.

The other day a friend really needed to talk. I'd been planning to take Ethan to library story time but we scrapped that and stayed home so my friend could come over. Even as I was switching a few things on our schedule around, I couldn't help but think, There are other moms of kids with autism who could not do this. Their child would freak at having the schedule changed. Their child (not just a toddler child, but possibly much older) would not occupy themselves at home and allow mom to just "chat." In no way does this mean those moms are not good friends. In fact, those moms might just need to connect with a friend more than anyone.

A number of years ago, at a church I used to attend, a quiet woman shared a short teaching at our women's group. I'd never heard her teach before and never did again but what she said that night has always stayed with me. She talked about the Last Supper, and Jesus washing the disciples' feet. And the question she presented was not, will we be servants, like Jesus, but rather, do we feel we are worthy to have Jesus wash our feet? Are we too full of shame, have we closed ourselves off from receiving what He has for us?

Where am I going with this? I guess what I'm trying to say is that yes, we should always be willing to serve, even if it's in the smallest of ways. But each of us go through seasons, and there are times when we are specifically called to give and times we need to rest and receive.

I pray the special needs parents (and all moms of young kiddos, really) will realize it's okay to receive. It's hard to give when your tank is empty, and when you are giving and giving to a child who has needs above and beyond the norm, it's particularly easy to drain empty rather quickly.

I pray that others would have compassion on those with a special needs situation, if they have to do a little more giving than taking in the friendship, at least for a season. I pray that they would have a heart to see the often unspoken needs and try to fill them.

And I pray those of us who find themselves with an opportunity to give would do so...that we would be still, open our eyes, and look for needs to fill.

To receive...both have immense rewards, and both are incredibly important. Ignoring either can be detrimental. And so I ask:

What season are you in?


Cheairs said...

Your words ring so true. To receive is the gift we give to others. When we are down on our knees we reach out our hands and by the grace of God someone takes it and lifts us up. We give the gift of receiving which is as bright as the hand that reached down to pull us up. Beautiful post!!!!

Deenie said...

Sadly, I try to give but I need more than I can give right now. Also, sadly, I can't say that I have found many people willing to extend a helping hand. Some people have surprised me in their lack of caring when I thought they would be the ones most likely to try and help and a few others that i least expected it from have surprised me in a good way and have stepped up to help even if just to offer a shoulder.

Deb said...

So well said, Cheairs! Deenie, I'm sorry it's been that way. I guess in those times we have to keep our eyes on those sweet surprises that have come our way, despite those others who have let us down. I think it's very easy for people (myself included) to get tunnel vision, focused so much on their own lives and world, they don't even stop to look for need...or realize how much of a difference the smallest gesture might make.