Receiving & Giving the Gift that We Are
By David Lee, M.A.M.F.T., M.Div., R.C.C
When I sat down to write about family relationships, I thought, “Okay, that’s pretty straightforward. I grew up in and am part of a family, and I am in relationship with them, so that shouldn’t be too difficult!” Well, I was kind of wrong because it soon dawned on me that this is a subject that has been extensively written. What could I possibly add to this conversation? I’m still not sure, two words seem relevant: acceptance and gift, where the experience of the former can lead to the offering of oneself as the latter.
When we think of our family or those closest to us, more than want for them a series of random experiences of acceptance, we want for them to know that they are the Accepted, that they are the Beloved. And we want for them to live in and from that place. But as we know too well, it is often a challenge to know who we are (and whose we are) and to live out of our core selves. The late Henri Nouwen, reflecting on a novel that describes the lifestyle of the rich and young who have thrown themselves into a life of sex, drugs, and violence, writes, “And the cry that arises from behind all of this decadence is clearly: ‘Is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who really cares? Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me? Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying? Is there anybody who can hold me and give me a sense of belonging?’ (Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus).”
Are these not the questions that ring in the minds and hearts of so many among us? For those who ask these questions from a raw place, and for those who have yet to even formulate such questions for themselves, the hope we hold for them is that they would come to know that they are the Beloved. Being the Beloved is not something that can be bought or earned. It is a gift that is given. As David Benner aptly puts it, “Although we speak of certain people as being self-made, no one is truly their own creation. Personhood is not an accomplishment; it is a gift” (David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, p. 47).
A relevant question, then, is how can people receive this gift of belovedness? The answer, simply, (though not simple to do) is to just be ‘yourself.’ Receiving this gift is not something we earn, perform for, or negotiate. At our core, as James Olthuis writes in The Beautiful Risk, “love is who we are, as gift and call, as passion to be lived out. It is in loving (or not loving) that we are (or are not) human” (Olthuis, 2001, p. 69). Thus it is not surprising that it is within the context of relationships that we know who, and whose, we are, and that we get to help others know the same. Olthuis envisions a “love pattern” to look like this:
I see I hear
I see you I hear you
I see you seeing me I hear you hearing me
I am seen I am heard
I feel loved I feel loved
I see I hear
I see you I hear you
I love you I love you
We (I with you)
What does all this mean for those who are closest to us? A good beginning place, perhaps, is to receive with open arms the wonderful gift of our belovedness and acceptance. Where are the places, the relationships, in which you can receive this gift for yourself? And as we do, we are empowered to offer ourselves as the relational contexts in which others – our children, our parents, our grandchildren and grandparents – can (re)discover (again and again) that they are the Beloved; that they are loved by us as they are, even as we are loved in this way.