When It’s Better to Receive Than to Give

Manger Scene  “Are you afraid of losing your identity?”

My counselor asked me this the other day. (I’ve been in counseling for the last few months. Shadows from the past and other nasty things have a way of surfacing during transition…)

I didn’t quite know what she meant, so I sat quiet for a minute and turned her question over in my mind.

“You’ve been in the role of caregiver for a long time. Maybe it’s time for you to be the receiver. Does that bother you?”

Ouch. This woman is perceptive.

She’s right. For the past fourteen and a half years, I’ve been the wife of a youth pastor, a mom, a Bible study teacher, a speaker, a safe place for hurting women and girls. And now I’m about to add overseas missionary to that list.

No pressure there.

I love what I’ve been doing. People and their stories fascinate me, and there are few things that make me come alive as much as being in a position to comfort and listen and pray. To lend strength and lift up.

But right now? Right now, I’m the weak one.

And, yes, it scares me. Giving – that’s a comfortable role. But receiving… well, it rubs me raw like a pair of bad shoes.

After so many years of pouring out, it does feel like I’m losing a bit of my identity to not have much to give. I’m a total freshman right now. Yes, I grew up on the mission field, and, yes, we spent a month in Papua New Guinea last year. But I’ve never done this before. I’ve never uprooted my kids, dealing with their grief and mine, and headed to a place where finding our new normal might take a while. I don’t speak Tok Pisin yet. I don’t know what it’s really like to live long-term as a wife and mother in another country. I don’t know what my role will look like, or if I even have anything they need. In the ten years we’ve been providing pastoral care for missionary families, I’ve never felt so completely empty-handed.

But I guess maybe empty hands are the most useful, really.

“Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.’“ (Luke 1:38a)

This girl was young, probably really young, weak and vulnerable, and she had nothing to offer but her willingness. And that was enough. She gave herself. It was God who overshadowed her, God who stepped into human skin, God who broke the night with the cry of His Son. Mary just… was.

I told my counselor that I feel like I’m not much more than a mess. And she said, “What if God’s plan is for you to be a mess? What if He wants you to just live messy and learn who He is? What if that’s your role? To just be?”

Later that day, I curled up like a little girl on my friend’s couch and told her what the counselor had said. I cried soggy tears, and she told me that I think too much. Then she wrapped strong sister arms around me and prayed words that ran like clear water to the deep places.

She spoke, and God spoke through her. And I just was.

And it was good. Really, really good.

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